717th MI Battalion develops, executes first NSA-Texas language competition
December 7, 2012
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The 717th Military Intelligence Battalion and the National Security Agency (NSA)-Texas recently marked another milestone in their partnership when, for the first time in either unit's history, they held a site-wide language competition involving all five services.
The competition was patterned after the World Wide Language Olympics at the Defense Language Institute. For more than 20 years, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) in Monterey, Calif., hosted a language competition. The center brought back some of the most proficient linguists throughout the Department of Defense to compete is a series of linguistic challenges. However, shortly after the terror attacks of 9/11, the DLIFLC language competition was placed on indefinite hold because of the high operational tempo of DoD linguists.
In an effort to help fill the void, the 717th MI Battalion volunteered to plan, develop and execute the first NSA-Texas site-wide language competition, pitting the best linguists from all five services against one another in a week of camaraderie-building events, each spanning the most prevalent languages utilized.
In order to maintain consistency with the earlier competition, the battalion invited the DLI Command Language Program manager (CLPM), Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shawn Williamson, to observe.
"This was clearly a creative idea and a great effort by both the Army planners and NSA-Texas hosts," Williamson said. "A job well done."
Williamson requested a copy of how the overall operation was conducted with the intent to brief DLI leadership about bringing the language competition back to DLI.
"Just know that when DLIFLC hosts the next language competition, the service members at NSA-Texas will be ready," said Lt. Col. Joseph Kushner, 717th MI Battalion commander.
While last October's execution was only a week long, the planning and development process took nearly six months, beginning with a proposal to site leadership and the Associate Directorate of Education and Training. This was followed by numerous meetings with each service's language manager and countless hours developing the format and topic questions, identifying judges and establishing event rules.
Together, the CLPMs ensured the NSA Texas language competition would follow the same guidelines of DLIFLC and decided the competitive languages would be Spanish, Russian and Serbian-Croatian. Each service was allowed to enroll multiple two-person teams. However, at least one member must have graduated the basic DLI language course. Additionally, the CLPMs decided on four events: Gisting (listening and reading), Password, Impromptu and Jeopardy. Each event targeted various linguistic aspects that should comprise a highly proficient linguist.
When the competition was announced, some of the best linguists on site came out and to try their hand at some inter-service linguistic challenges. Because of fierce competition, no one team, in any service, held a commanding lead throughout the games; every service had winners in both the individual and team events. Nevertheless, in the end, by a narrow margin, the Army was the overall service winner.
"This language competition was such a success that my expectations were to not have this be a single incidence, but an annual event," said Col. Peter Lambert, NSA/Central Security Service-Texas site commander.
In light of this comment, an after-action review was conducted, and work has already begun on next year's competition. Based on participant feedback as well as the notoriety gained throughout the mission sets this event is expected to expand in subsequent years.