Foreign Language Labs Build Partnership Capacity
January 18, 2013
Tobyhanna Army Depot: Highly skilled Tobyhanna Army Depot specialists trek through some of the globe's most extreme environments to provide the means for allied forces to learn the English language. Enduring challenging working conditions in places like Burundi, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, these expeditionary volunteers install labs that overcome the language barrier so foreign military can work effectively with U.S. forces abroad.
The 10-year-old language lab program has sent depot employees to more than 70 countries to install state-of-the-art computerized classrooms designed to teach English. Recently, a two-man team traveled to Tripoli, Libya. The Africa Command (AFRICOM) install gave Training Instructor Javier Garcia valuable knowledge and experience.
"I have only been with the program for a few months, but in that short amount of time I have seen firsthand how vital it is in forging positive relationships with other countries," he said. Garcia works in Tobyhanna's Field Logistics Support (FLS) Directorate and was part of the team that installed Audio Active Language Labs in Libya. "It is a great example of how CECOM and its depot are supporting our warfighting commanders."
The CECOM-managed program includes both worldwide travel as well as the integration of the labs at Tobyhanna prior to fielding. Once funding, program requirements and schedules are in place, Tobyhanna personnel fabricated the labs; computers are assembled at the depot using specific commercial-off-the-shelf hardware, software is loaded and thoroughly tested to meet quality standards, then the systems are shipped to the customer. If an install is requested, depot employees travel to the country, complete the installation and instruct users on how the lab functions.
"The program is getting larger and receiving more recognition," said Stephen Pesta, training instructor in the FLS Directorate's Readiness Training Division. "When it first started, it was very much under the radar. Now that the system's name is out there and (foreign) forces have seen the work we do and how we do it, more and more language labs are being assembled and installed. It's truly been a great and rewarding experience."
Pesta has been a part of the language lab program since it first started at the depot and was also part of the team that traveled to Libya in December.
Countries must request language lab equipment through the U.S. State Department. The State Department then works through CECOM and the Security Cooperation Education Training Working Group to determine how many labs and work stations are needed. Then, once funding is passed through the Security Assistance Training Field Activity to CECOM, Tobyhanna orders the materials needed to meet the request.
Instructors here have also developed a training program that provides users and local personnel effective teaching, maintenance and basic troubleshooting techniques. The program even offers customer support via e-mail or phone.
Electronics Technician John Nemeth has a hand in the process from beginning to end and has travelled to five continents with the program.
"Language training helps foreign troops support our forces in joint missions around the world by providing a common language," said Nemeth. "It's Tobyhanna's job to make it happen."
George Bellas, director of C3/Avionics, says the depot's constant support has made the program successful.
"We support the foreign nations from cradle to grave," he said. "If a lab breaks or the customer requests an upgrade, we schedule a return mission to meet their needs and keep improving our skills, processes and response time."
Since the program's inception, the depot has delivered 297 systems and completed 178 installations in 71 nations.
During an install in Iraq, depot personnel endured extreme heat and multiple power issues while completing labs in Taji and Ar Rustamiyah, Temperatures rose above 120 degrees Fahrenheit and crews were limited to working only when electricity was available. Nemeth was the team leader for both installations and said safety is the main concern in those situations.
"We're like brothers when we're out there in the field," he said. "Whenever we come across a problem, we can work together, calm each other down and play off each other's strengths."
CECOM received accolades for the Tripoli install from the Foreign Service National and Security Assistance Officer for Tobyhanna's work with the mission. Michael Milillo, CECOM logistics management specialist, said the depot is often credited with establishing and bolstering relations with foreign nations.
"The lab installation was pivotal for establishing a new relationship with the people of Libya," said Milillo. "Tobyhanna is praised for its great work and infectious positive attitudes during installations."
Depot employees who traveled for language lab installations witness such commendations.
Electronics Technician Donna Phillips says she has heard nothing but positive feedback from customers and users.
"We have received numerous positive surveys following installations that serve as a testament to the quality service the depot provides with this program," she said. Phillips is the depot's main point of contact for the language lab program and helps coordinate fabrication schedules, shipments and installations. She works in the Production Engineering Directorate's C3/Avionics Engineering Branch.
In addition to audio labs, Tobyhanna also provides support for Training Multimedia Language Labs and Language Learning Resource Centers which are used for independent learning including group projects, studying and improving writing skills.
Each lab consists of 25 to 30 student carrels, small enclosures that ensure privacy while studying and using the interactive materials. Tobyhanna completes between 20 and 50 language labs per year and has installed more than 5,000 work stations. With each one comes a new experience.
"Every trip is unique," said Pesta. "The most important thing I've learned through this program is that no matter where you go, people are still people. Everybody is eager to learn and experience new things."