By Spc. Hannah FrenchickSeptember 16, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Part of a combat medic's job is providing basic and emergency treatment to Soldiers. While deployed they also give that treatment to the locals.
For Spc. Ashley Lagace, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, the job of treating Afghans just became easier. She recently completed the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Presidio of Monterey's 16-week course that focused on the Afghan dialect of Dari at JBLM's Language Center.
Lagace's fascination of foreign languages and cultures began when she first started learning French in middle school. That passion continued with her into the Army.
"When I joined the Army I was especially interested in it because we are actually going to be at a place where we use other languages," said Lagace. "I told my chain- of -command when I got to the unit that if a language school opening came up that I would like to be put in for it."
Before arriving to Charlie Medical Company, Lagace attended the civil affairs course. While there she was injured and changed her career path to become a healthcare specialist otherwise known as a combat medic. Her chain-of-command saw something special with her and decided she would be a good candidate for the Dari course.
"She came to us with a lot of background from the civil affairs training," said Charlie Med's 1st Sgt. Douglas Wallace, 2nd Brigade Support Battalion. "She is a very bright intelligent young lady. We immediately identified that, we selected her out of 80 Soldiers to go to the training."
Two months after reporting to Charlie Med an opportunity to learn a new language arose when members of her unit were chosen to participate in the intense 16-week Dari and Pashtu courses.
"It's a pretty intense course," said Lagace. "It's seven hours a day, five days a week for 16 weeks straight. After the first few weeks we tried to just speak the target language, which in our case was Dari."
For the honor graduate, an important piece of the language puzzle is understanding the culture of the Afghan people.
"Through the whole course we got cultural education," said Lagace. "I think that when you are learning the language you can't really understand it fully unless you understand the culture. The language and the culture are just tied together."
Her understanding of the culture and language is a huge asset, not only to herself but her unit.
"We don't always get interpreters assigned to [medical] and we see a lot of Afghan or foreign nationals in the aid station, so having a built-in, language-enhanced Soldier helps," said 1st Sgt. Wallace.
Wallace also said that medics often support village outreach programs and having a Soldier who speaks the local language will help to build trust and confidence between the Afghan people and U.S. Soldiers.
Spc. Lagace feels like she will be able to make a difference by not-only saving lives but by being able to also understand those she helps.
"I think that in an aid station you can treat someone and save their life regardless of what language you know, but I think there are a few critical moments within the first few moments of an injury that knowing another language will help," said Lagace.
Now that Lagace has an understanding of Dari and the Afghan culture she plans to become more fluent in the dialect to prepare for any future deployments.