Deployment training includes language, culture
August 4, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- When Spc. Josh Pinteiro deployed previously to Iraq, he didn’t know much about the language.
Now that his current unit, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, he’ll have an advantage he didn’t before " 16 weeks of mission-oriented Dari training.
“Before we came here we didn’t know what to expect,” Pinteiro said of the classes, which began at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Language Center in mid May.
Now he feels confident that he can have basic conversations and establish a connection with locals, which in turn will help his fellow Soldiers.
The course is part of a new training program from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Presidio of Monterey, Calif., which is providing this type of training to general purpose Soldiers for the first time.
The idea is to have one language-enabled Soldier in each platoon who
can carry out simple interactions in the local language, freeing interpreters for more complex tasks.
“We’re not creating linguists, but we are creating Soldiers who have a very extensive knowledge of culture and basic language,” JBLM language center director Yvonne Pawelek said.
The course has been used at several installations, and has come to JBLM for the first time at the request of the brigade’s commander, Col. Barry Huggins.
A total of 66 Soldiers from 2nd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. are learning either Pashto or Dari, focusing on vocabulary they’ll need downrange. The goal isn’t fluency. Rather, the Soldiers will have enough language skills to do their jobs and help navigate every day situations for their platoons.
Each week ends with a quiz and a practical test of their knowledge. The students run mock house and car searches with their instructors, or have conversations using that week’s vocabulary.
“They’re learning the basics of Dari and Pashto in the context of the engagements they’re going to have when they’re in country,” Pawelek said.
The program was established after commanders expressed a need for Soldiers with more language skills downrange, Pawelek said, but the Soldiers in the program are seeing personal benefits as well.
“I’m glad to be learning a language that we’re actually going to use,” Spc. Ashley La Gace, a Dari student, said.
La Gace, who always wanted to learn another language, had just finished searching her instructor’s minivan in the language center’s parking lot. Over the course of the exchange, she questioned him about items in his car, translated parts of the conversation for her classmates and took a description of a suspicious person.
It’s not just about language, though. The students are also learning to be culturally sensitive, a crucial part of their mission.
“We’ve learned a lot about how to build rapport,” she said.
The course will finish in early September.
Marisa Petrich: firstname.lastname@example.org