470th MI Brigade Soldier wins Army linguist competition
February 7, 2013
For the second year in a row, the U.S. Army has recognized a Soldier of the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade as its Language Professional of the Year.
Sgt. Ruben Costea, like his predecessor a member of the 717th MI Battalion, won at battalion level, brigade level and Intelligence and Security Command level before taking top honors at the Army competition. Now he competes with linguists of the other military services for the title at Department of Defense.
Costea looks forward to attending the Army's recognition ceremony; he missed the INSCOM ceremony because he was deployed overseas. Another battalion member initially accepted the INSCOM presentations on Costea's behalf, until Costea personally received them at the 717th MI Battalion's monthly payday activities and award assembly.
"I was deployed to Afghanistan for six months as part of our SOCOM support team," said Costea. "I had just completed the first step of the competition before deployment. I had to submit my other packages while 'down range.'"
The packages included essays on specified topics related to language training. The judges evaluate these essays in addition to scores on the Defense Language Proficiency Test -- which tests speaking, listening and writing in the foreign languages -- to determine competition winners.
Costea scored high in three languages: Spanish, Romanian and German. He credits his scores to an early exposure to the number of languages he encountered in his formative years. "I was fortunate to grow up in regions with diverse cultures and where many languages were spoken," Costea said.
His story begins near the border of Transylvania -- yes, Transylvania -- a part of modern-day Romania. While both his parents spoke Romanian, his mother's family also spoke Hungarian, which is unsurprising because Hungary long ruled Transylvania. Many people also spoke Russian and Ukranian since Romania belonged to the Eastern Bloc until the Iron Curtain disintegrated in the early 1990s.
At age 6, Costea and his family moved to Austria, where they learned German, and while he attended a formal secondary school there, he studied English and Latin. When he was 16, the Costea family moved again, this time to the United States of America. Eight years later, he joined the U.S. Army.
"I wanted to get into the military intelligence field," said Costea. "I consider myself a technical problem-solver first, but speaking other languages fits well with being a cryptologic linguist."
Language tests Costea took upon entering the Army earned him a coveted seat at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. There he pursued proficiency in Spanish, which is similar to Romanian.
Although Costea concedes nothing beats growing up speaking more than one language, adults who seek to learn another language have one potential advantage; "Learning a language from scratch gives a person a different approach to language," he said. "Non-native speakers have an opportunity to study the language fundamentals at a higher or more sophisticated level."
After graduating from DLI with honors, he underwent intelligence training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, where he again graduated with honors. Ultimately, he was lucky enough to gain assignment to the 717th MI Battalion, the 470th MI Brigade's primary signals intelligence component.
Costea described his battalion as "very linguist attentive."
"They actively seek out unique training opportunities that bolster our language maintenance abilities, Costea said. "The fact that the battalion has won two years straight at both INSCOM and Army level shows the language program is obviously working. Our battalion even won the site language competition held annually at the cryptologic center, beating out all other services."
The battalion command team has coined the phrase "Language is a weapon system."
"The battalion program focuses on centralized planning with decentralized execution," said Lt. Col. Joe Kushner, the battalion commander. "We [the command team] in conjunction with the Command Language Program Manager [CLPM] plan, program and budget for language training six months in advance; these plans are subsequently executed by the company commanders and their own CLPMs.
"We treat language the same way we treat our small arms ranges, combatives, combat lifesaver and leader development programs," Kushner added. "Each is an integral part of being an intelligence professional."