FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (May 31, 2012) -- As U.S. Soldiers continue to deploy overseas, learning the foreign languages and culture of other countries is critical to mission success, a federal official said recently.

Mission success is directly connected to the ability to communicate effectively with local populations and international partners, said Laura Junor, deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness, during her testimony May 21 before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee.

"Our current challenge lies in filling language-required positions with personnel that possess the requisite language skills," she said, according to the American Forces Press Service article.

Fort Campbell's Eagle Language Training Center is meeting that challenge.

The center, located on the installation's Desert Storm Avenue, offers a holistic approach to teaching active duty Soldiers language and culture.

For linguists, the center houses The Army Language Program or TALP.

For Soldiers learning a language to coincide with their next deployment station, there is the General Purpose Force Campaign Continuity-Language Operators Course.

The center is "one location where you can go for language, whether it be for linguists or general purpose force," said Kyle Warren, Mission Support Element G2.

Fort Campbell has partnered with the Defense Language Institute in this effort.

General Purpose Force Course

Seated on cushions in the center of a room, a trio of Afghan leaders discusses the top concern within their village community.

Several 1st Brigade Combat Team Soldiers are privy to the conversation, spoken entirely in Pashto. It was their job to interpret the words and observe the cultural traditions in that setting -- like they might do during their next deployment to Afghanistan.

The role-playing scenario is part of the General Purpose Force course in one of the Eagle Language Training Center's culture rooms.

After the 10-minute discussion concluded, the Bastogne Soldiers successfully determined the focus was concerns with security, the Taliban and schools in the Afghan village.

"How can we build a school, if you don't have security," explained instructor Ahmad Elham Alokozai, to interpret the Pashto conversation. "The main focus was over having a security risk in the village."

These role-playing exercises offer Soldiers the opportunity to practice speaking and interpreting Pashto so they are able to better interact with the Afghan populace. Students also learn more about the cultures of Afghanistan, including the clothes they wear and what type of tea is served during a gathering.

"Culture is a big thing," native Afghan instructor Ahmad Barakzai told the troops. "If you respect their culture and religion they'll just bow their head to you and consider you a friend… Afghans are very respectful. If they respect you one time, they'll respect you 10 times."

In 2010, Fort Campbell was the first post in the Army to introduce a language training initiative at its installation. Before that, Soldiers would be sent in small numbers to language courses in Washington, D.C. or at the DLI facility in California.

Since that time, the program has evolved and grown into the General Purpose Force course, teaching more than 400 Soldiers language and culture.

Based on the current mission, the GPF course is training 101st Soldiers in the Afghan languages of Pashto or Dari. Soldiers interested in the program may be recommended by their commanding officer or volunteer for the program if they want to learn the language and culture.

Native Afghans with the DLI Language Training Detachment teach the classes. The course curriculum includes classroom instruction, homework, class participation, quizzes and tests, role playing, writing the alphabet, reading aloud, and repeating aloud words/phrases in Pashto or Dari spoken by the instructor. All these factor into the student's final grade, along with the Oral Proficiency Interview and Tactical Operations Test.

Upon completion of the course, Soldiers are able to carry on basic conversations and will have a deeper understanding of the Afghan culture and society. This training will enhance the Army's ability to partner with Afghan National Security Forces and local Afghan communities.

"Language really is a portion of culture," Warren said. "We're continuing to grow this momentum of understanding that if you really want to be culturally astute to the people you are dealing with, you're learning the language, learning the history, learning the cultural aspects of it, which makes you agile in that operational environment."

Barakzai agrees that culture plays an essential role in bridging the gap between troops and local populations.

"That's why we say winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan," the instructor said. "This is a war where if you go there, show the respect, learn some language and tell them you're there with a sincere intention to help rebuild their country, build them schools, build them roads, build them clinics … then they'll support you."

Having already deployed to Afghanistan once, Spc. Joseph Anguiano said he reaped the benefits of the role-playing exercises and learning Pashto.

"Last time I was there the main people I talked to were the workers on the bases -- the people that made our food, the people that drove our trucks," said the gunner in Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st BCT. "[This time] I will be having different conversations with different levels of people in their villages. This situation was really good for me. It opened my eyes to what I can expect over there."

Warren said Fort Campbell's goal is to train 100 to 125 Soldiers per brigade in this general purpose force 16-week course.

For those that excel in the initial language acquisition, an additional eight-week enhancement course is available to Soldiers who want to increase their knowledge. All Soldiers who have completed either of these courses should sustain their language ability by attending a two-hour class each week so they don't lose what they have learned, said Lucy Lane, command language program manager for the 101st Abn. Div.

For commanders or units who cannot dedicate 16 weeks to this intense training, the Eagle Language Training Center and resident DLI instructors may be able to accommodate them with shorter courses tailored to their needs, Lane said.

"These can be as small as five people; as short as a day. They can be as large as 250 people and up to five weeks," Lane said. "We listen to the need, help refine and identify it and see if we can meet it with the resources we have."

With the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan currently slated for 2014, mission locations will likely change for U.S. troops.

As deployment destinations change, Warren said Fort Campbell's Eagle Language Training Center will be able to offer different language and culture courses to Soldiers to meet those mission requirements.

"We have a great facility," he said. "We've got a DLI detachment who can help us achieve those missions."

The Army Language Program

Each of the four brigade combat teams stationed at Fort Campbell has 19 linguists assigned. Soldiers who serve as linguists in their BCTs often train elsewhere before they are stationed at Fort Campbell, said Lane.

"Our goal is to help them maintain, sustain and improve their skills while they are here," she said.

Every 365 days, a linguist must take their annual Defense Language Proficiency Test. To help them stay sharp or brush up on their skills, the Eagle Language Training Center provides language instructors and a computer lab, complete with computers and online training for these Soldiers, Lane said.

"It is the individual's responsibility to maintain their language," she said. "Some of our best happen to be married to someone who speaks the language. Others take it upon themselves to read books, watch movies, read newspapers, get online and check things out, watch the news [to maintain their skills]."

Despite what the Eagle Language Training Center provides, Lane said many linguists are too busy to take advantage of these services. Lane hopes that trend will change.

"The challenge is to get the Soldiers into the classroom on a regular basis so they can stay skilled in the language and score well on the annual DLPT," she said.

Linguists who are interested in spending a couple of hours a month, week or day at the center should communicate that need to their commanders.

"It's the commanders' responsibility to execute that training and make that training available to the Soldiers and make the Soldiers available for the training," she said.

Commanders should contact Lane at (270) 798-1529 or email her at lucinda.h.lane.civ@mail.mil.

Lane said it is important for linguists to preserve and improve their skills with language.

"It's an Army asset," she said. "The Army has devoted money; the Army is tracking them for those languages… [the Army] may pick them for a future assignment based on the language."

For more information on either linguist or General Purpose Force training at Fort Campbell, contact Lane.

Soldiers need to register for General Purpose Force courses at least six weeks in advance. The next class dates are June 25-Oct. 26, then Aug. 27-Dec. 14.

Page last updated Fri June 1st, 2012 at 00:00