FORT HOOD, Texas (February 16, 2016) -- Imagine a team of specialized Soldiers atop a mountain, taking positions employing cutting-edge technology to listen to enemy radio communication from the valley below. They are highly-trained professionals, fluent in the local language and equipped with the latest equipment, which allows them to intercept, understand and report critical information to their higher headquarters.
For the Soldiers of the Fort Hood-based 504th Military Intelligence Brigade, the scenario above is not farfetched; in fact, Soldiers develop and improve their language expertise through training provided at the brigade's Language Training Facility. Poised as the "Always Ready" brigade, the 504th's Soldiers cannot be vigilant without the tools and training needed to support a battlefield or theater commander.
Linguists are a vital part of the Army's ability to operate and win in a complex world. Without an understanding of foreign language and customs, it would be difficult for Soldiers to understand and succeed in difficult foreign environments.
The purpose of the brigade's language training lab is to provide Soldiers with a facility and resources designed for maintenance of language skills required by the Army Foreign Language Program and Army Regulation 11-6.
Each battalion-sized unit and above is required to establish a Command Language Program. The program's significance and success is fundamental to maintaining the unit's readiness. It is just as important as a Soldier's daily physical fitness training, common Soldier skill training, and Military Occupational Skill training.
Staff Sgt. Johnathan Sloop, the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade's Command Language Program Manager, serves as the Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge of the Language Training Lab. He is responsible for the day-to-day oversight and administration of the lab and advising those who use the facility, as well as tracking training and testing results.
Sloop said the facility directly impacts the 504th's military intelligence mission and ability to conduct worldwide deployments.
"The language lab facilitates and enables the brigade's readiness," Sloop said. "The brigade ensures that Soldiers who have language capabilities have a means to study and maintain their language."
The brigade has approximately 200 Soldiers serving as 35P -- Cryptologic Linguists and 35M -- Human Intelligence Collectors. These intelligence specialties include the requirement to learn and maintain a foreign language.
Proficiency language training emphasizes two facets of languages: reading comprehension and listening. The lab's capabilities provide easy access to authentic target-language materials for written and spoken criteria. Soldiers can listen to radio broadcasts, podcasts, or watch movies in their target language. Also provided are online newspapers, journals, and literature that provide challenging reading material.
"These elements allow maintenance training to be done with authentic material," Sloop said. "This is best for training and also enables a better cultural awareness."
Cultural awareness is critical when attempting to master another language. The lab can also facilitate small group language training sessions led by advanced linguist mentors. With all their training, the 504th can support III Corps with highly-qualified Soldiers who are ready to deploy, and facilitate specific military intelligence operations.
Cpl. Timothy Rojas, a Cryptologic Linguist with B Company, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade, and native of North Bergen, New Jersey, said the lab is a "great resource." Rojas' assigned language is Spanish.
He said the lab offers the language training necessary for him to remain proficient in his job, and appreciates how the battalion allows Soldiers time to utilize the lab facility.
Spc. Tiffany Fleury, a Cryptologic Linguist with B Company, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, and native of New Orleans, spoke of equipping the unit's Soldiers with the tools needed to be effective for training and mission success. Fleury speaks MSA "Colloquial" Arabic.
"(The lab) is very helpful," Fleury said. "It's nice and quiet, which makes it conducive to learning."
The brigade's language lab is available to 504th MI Brigade Soldiers, although linguists and those with other language-necessary MOSs from other units are welcome. It is open Monday from 1 p.m. -- 5 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. -- 5 p.m.