By Sgt. Amy LaneApril 22, 2013
Many Soldiers find that a little healthy competition can be good motivation for self improvement and, in an effort to encourage linguists to improve their skills; the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade organized a language competition to do just that.
The Joint Language Wars gave teams of 704th MI Brigade linguists the opportunity to show their skills and compete with their Navy and Air Force counterparts at the Joint Language Center in Linthicum, Md., March 26-29.
After realizing that the brigade hasn't participated in a language competition since 2005, Col. Anthony Hale, commander of the 704th MI Brigade, decided to revive the tradition that was previously referred to as the 'Language Olympics.'
Hale said the skills of the brigade's linguists have improved immensely since he put a focus on it in the last quarter of fiscal year 12. According to Hale, there has been a large increase in those considered proficient and expert in their languages and the number of sub-proficient scores has decreased significantly.
"Having a competition puts the focus on how important language is," Hale said. "A linguist being an expert in his or her language is like another Soldier shooting expert on his or her weapon."
According to Lt. Col. Terance Huston, the commander of 741st MI Battalion, 704th MI Brigade, the improvements have worked so well that only nine percent of the linguists in his battalion are currently considered sub-proficient in their languages. He said this is the first time he can remember ever having less than 10 percent sub-proficient.
Huston believes this significant improvement is due not only to the hard work of the linguists and the world-class training facilities, but also the "focus on set [teams of] linguists and mentors and tailored training programs."
Hale said he plans to bring back the Joint Language Wars as an annual event to encourage Soldiers to keep their skills sharp.
The competition focused on five languages that are among those studied by 704th MI Brigade linguists: Arabic, Korean, Chinese, Spanish and Russian.
Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Holler, the brigade's command language program manager, said Soldiers receive at least 150-200 hours of language training every year through various training methods including mentorship programs and classroom time. The programs offered to the brigade are flexible, with the ability to tailor training to focus on any areas that an individual may need to work on most whether it's reading, writing or speaking.
"One reason for the recent improvements is the emphasis throughout the unit on the importance of languages," Holler said. "Everyone understands [language is] that's our job and it's important to maintain those skills because they're critical to the mission of supporting our national defense."
Maj. Shawn Stroop, the 704th MI Brigade operations officer, said while the event was organized to encourage Soldiers to improve and progress, it was also a great opportunity to compete with the sister services.
"What a great way to represent not only your service, but put your skills to use and compete against each other," Stroop said.
The event was scheduled to end the morning of March 29, but it was such a close competition that tiebreakers lasted into the afternoon. After the winners were determined, the event closed out with an awards ceremony.
Though the 704th MI Brigade was the overall winner, Hale said, "We didn't host the competition to win it, but to bring focus back to the importance of your languages as a weapons system."