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Soldiers first to graduate from language detachments

Jun 16, 2010

By Natela Cutter and Brian Lamar

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 16, 2010) -- More than 370 Soldiers graduated June 11 from new language courses meant to prepare them for Afghanistan.

The students were the first trained by new language detachments set up this spring at three Army installations. Their courses were designed to prepare the Soldiers to be squad-designated linguists in Afghanistan.

The June graduations include nearly 300 Soldiers from 1st Brigade 4th, Infantry Division, "Raider" Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo., who spent seven weeks learning the Dari and Pashto languages at the schoolhouse there in advance of their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

Also included were more than 70 Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who studied the target languages for 16 weeks at Fort Campbell, Ky. Much of the 101st Airborne Division is already in Afghanistan and the newly graduated language experts will join them there within three weeks.

Coursework is now underway at the third detachment, at Fort Drum, N.Y. Their first class of 54 will graduate July 23.

These "Campaign Continuity Language Training Detachments" were part of a pilot program developed in response to requirements put forth by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, to put more "language-enabled" Soldiers on the ground.

When McChrystal took command of the International Security Assistance Force, it became clear that an effective way to revitalize counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan was to have a large contingent of personnel capable of understanding the culture and have some knowledge of the language.

The three detachments are the result of a partnership between the operational Army and the Defense Language Institute to meet the demands of McChrystal.

The intensive language training courses are staffed with native language instructors, and are organized by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.

The classes focus first on basic listening and speaking skills before moving on to more practical applications for Soldiers in theater. Counterinsurgency doctrine also makes it essential for Soldiers to be able to communicate with village elders about such things as governance, economics and security. Soldiers learned social, economic, and military vocabulary to assist them when partnering with and operating amongst the Afghan people. Coursework also focused on cultural awareness, to help Soldiers learn to avoid the cultural faux pas that could hinder their unit's ability to conduct operations.

"The key to the success of these Soldiers was really the way we set up the instruction," said Mowafiq Al-Anazi, associate dean of Field Support in the Directorate of Continuing Education at DLIFLC. "They were taught the alphabet, reading and writing, with an emphasis on sentence structure word replacement, meaning that they could learn a simple sentence, then replace the subject or verb and create a new sentence."

Enabling Soldiers to speak and understand the language of the people they will operate among will greatly enhance mission effectiveness, said Maj. Mike Birmingham, in charge of language training for the 1st Brigade Combat Team AT Fort Carson.

"The training our Soldiers have gone through will have a direct immediate impact in helping the Afghan National Army understand that we are there to fight with them, for them, and to help the Afghan populace," said Birmingham.

Graduates say they are looking forward to taking what they've learned to the field.

"I will be a key leader engagement note taker for the battalion commander," said Pfc. Lauren Townsend, one of the students at Fort Carson. She graduated from the Dari course and says her classmates teased her for having a "perfect" Dari accent. "My commander wants me to work with the interpreters so that they feel like they are a part of the team."

McChrystal asked, in a November 2009 memorandum, that each "platoon, or like sized organization" that will have regular contact with the population of Afghanistan should have "at least one leader that speaks Dari at least 0+ level, with a goal of level 1 in oral communications."

Most students in the past who have taken a 16-week language course ended up with a "0+/0+" level of language capability -- a rating that refers both to speaking and listening capability -- but many have achieved the higher 1/1 goal.

Clare Bugary, the director of operations at DLI, said the 16-week course will meet the 0+ requirement set by McChrystal, but for Soldiers to exceed that and achieve the goal of a level 1 skill, they will need to push themselves.

Bugary said students in the CCLTDs are learning the language alphabet and also phrases, to provide a "proficiency foundation." But she also said students will come out of the class with enough knowledge to not just repeat phrases, but to know how to replace words in a sentence to change their meaning and to have enough knowledge to seek out more knowledge -- so it's not simply reading off a card.

For many Soldiers going through the language course, their upcoming deployment will be their first. They say learning about Afghanistan's culture helped alleviate the normal apprehension involved with going to a foreign and hostile area.

"We all have a fear of the unknown," said Spc. Brock Redpath, the Dari course honor graduate at Fort Campbell. "The more knowledge that you can gain about your allies, as well as your enemies, will help you accomplish your mission."

The coursework in the CCLTDs is structured after that included in a larger Department of Defense program called "AFPAK Hands," which is a language and culture-immersion program for field-grade officers, senior NCOs, and DOD civilians that includes not just instruction, but a nearly five-year commitment to a specific portion of the mission in Afghanistan.

Fort Campbell has already stood up a second class, with 43 students, that's expected to graduate in September. Fort Carson is expected to graduate its second class, with 75 students, in December.

Beginning in Fiscal Year 2011, both the Campaign Continuity program and the AFPAK Hands program will expand. The AFPAK Hands program, for instance, will expand beyond the Washington, D.C. area to three additional locations. The Campaign Continuity program will add an additional seven CCLTDs to the three that exist already. With 10 detachments, the program will no longer be Army-centric, but can move into more joint training opportunities.

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