DoD Seeks People With Language Skills, Regional Expertise
DoD Seeks People With Language Skills,
By Donna Miles, American Forces
Washington D.C. -- (AFIS)
February 3, 2005 -- If you speak a foreign language or have the desire and
aptitude to learn one, Uncle Sam wants you.
The Defense Department is on the lookout for people with language skills to
support not only current operations, but future ones as well, according to Gail
McGinn, deputy undersecretary of defense for plans.
And just as important as language skills, she said, is an understanding of
other countries' geographies, cultures and people.
The military has the greatest language and cultural expertise in four primary
languages: German, French, Spanish and Russian, McGinn said during an interview
with the Pentagon Channel. But when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,
thrust the United States into the war on terror, the department simply didn't
have enough linguists fluent in Arabic or in Dari and Pashtu, the languages of
Afghanistan, she said. Similarly, she said, DoD has come up short on linguists
for other areas of the world that have attracted increased U.S. interest during
the war on terror.
McGinn said the revelation has been described as a "Sputnik moment." When the
Soviets launched Sputnik, the first satellite, in 1957, the United States
quickly began promoting math, science and language in its schools so it could
Similarly, after 9/11, the United States recognized its language deficiencies
for certain parts of the world. "The global war on terror … made us realize that
we need these capabilities, and we need people to have these skills," she said.
Language and cultural skills help servicemembers interact with the local
people, McGinn said. Civil affairs specialists and interpreters deployed
throughout Iraq are demonstrating the value of those skills daily as they
interact with local citizens and their leaders.
But if more servicemembers had language skills, the operational payoff could
be tremendous, she pointed out. For example, when coalition troops were headed
north toward Baghdad at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, what if the
local people had information they wanted to share? And what if the U.S. troops
wanted to warn them about something, or to diffuse a situation?
"I think you can see, just from that set of activities, how important it is
to have the ability to communicate in the language of the country that you're
in," McGinn said.
To help boost language skills within the military, McGinn said, DoD has
launched or plans to introduce several new initiatives:
Increased the Defense Language Institute's budget by more than $50 million
to go toward curriculum development and improved foreign language testing, to
develop more "crash courses" for developing troops, and to begin training
students to higher levels of proficiency.
Received legislative authority to increase foreign language proficiency
pay for military linguists from the current high of $300 a month to a top rate
Pays stipends to college students involved in regional studies and
language studies who agree to seek jobs within the U.S. national security
establishment, through the National Security Education Program.
Established the National Flagship Language Initiative, in which colleges
and universities offer advanced language training in Arabic, Korean, Chinese and
Russian to students who agree to work for the national security establishment.
Initiated a pilot program within the Army encouraging Iraqi Americans to
join the Individual Ready Reserve, providing a pool of Arabic linguists, ready
when needed. Of more than 200 people recruited through the program, 44 have
deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and another 19 are awaiting deployment.
Will survey members of the current force, both military and civilian, to
determine who has language skills that could prove useful in current or future
Issued a white paper encouraging the United States to promote the emphasis
placed on language skills nationwide.
Promoted the development of technology with language and translation
Is considering establishing a database in which American citizens can
register their language skills or sign up for a civilian linguist reserve corps
that could contribute to national language requirements as needed.
McGinn said these and other initiatives under consideration will help the
United States better position itself for future military operations, wherever in
the world they occur. "We're working on a lot of those initiatives to try to …
anticipate the unanticipated," she said.
She sees the new initiatives as solid first steps in changing the importance
DoD places on foreign language skills.
"This is really more than just finding linguists and people with the ability
to speak languages," she said. "It's a transformation in the way language is
viewed in the Department of Defense — how it is valued, how it is developed and
how it is employed."
Integrating foreign language and regional expertise into the military mindset
will have far-reaching implications, McGinn said, affecting "the way we conduct
operations and the way we conduct ourselves in the world."