During a visit to the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade Oct. 19, Maj. Gen. Mary Legere, commander of Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), finally met up with the command's Language Professional of the Year, Staff Sgt. Hwon Pak.

INSCOM announced that Pak, a Soldier with the brigade's 717th MI Battalion, had won the distinction and presented the award during ceremonies a month ago at Fort Belvoir, Va. However, the battalion commander accepted the award on his behalf. Pak was in Costa Rica at the time, immersing himself in a Spanish-language culture for six weeks and teaching daily classes -- in Spanish, of course -- at an institute there.

Spanish was not Pak's first language. He was born in Korea, but when he was 8, he moved with his parents to Argentina where he was exposed not only to Spanish but other languages as well.

"I had friends [in Argentina] whose grandparents would speak only Italian," he recalled.

When he was 18, Pak came to the United States and became a U.S. citizen.

"After learning Spanish at an early age, I found it easy to learn English," said Pak.

Since joining the Army six and a half years ago, Pak completed a Portuguese course for Spanish speakers, thereby adding another language to his repertoire. But he has focused on his proficiency in Spanish. His language proficiency test scores, use of his Spanish language skills on deployments, and his overall military record brought him recognition as the 470th MI Brigade Language Professional of the Year for 2011 last summer.

Pak encourages other Soldiers to pursue language proficiency and to immerse themselves in the language in another country if there is the opportunity.

"You not only learn more about the language," he said. "You learn more about the culture of the language."

As an analyst with a signals intelligence battalion, Pak's language skills provided him with an advantage over analysts who required a translator. Now Pak moves into a career as a linguist.

"There's no pressure," said Legere, smiling as she shook hands with Pak and gave him a challenge coin. "However, we do expect you to become Army Language Professional of the Year."