Cryptologic linguists must know a foreign language before becoming part of the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade, but they must maintain and improve their language proficiency while they are assigned to it. And the brigade's Command Language Program helps to ensure that.

Aspiring Army cryptologic linguists can take a language aptitude test when they join the Army. If they score high enough, they can go on to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) where they can pursue the language in courses ranging in duration from 36 to 64 weeks. If they attain DLI's standards, they will go on to train in other aspects of their occupational specialty; once they successfully complete this training, they will be assigned to a military intelligence unit.

"Our goal is to take Soldiers who qualify with basic language skills from DLI to a level where they can comfortably fill their intelligence mission," said David Hansen, the brigade's command language program manager. "For Soldiers in military intelligence, language goes right up there [in importance] with all their other warrior task training."

Patrick Franco, Intelligence and Security Command language branch chief, recently noted, "All INSCOM missions require refined knowledge of target languages and proficiencies at or higher than the Army standard."

More than 200 linguists are currently involved in the 470th MI Brigade's language program. Most of the students are pursuing proficiency in Spanish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian or Brazilian Portuguese with much smaller numbers studying Chinese, Korean, French or Italian. Those pursing proficiency in Arabic languages study at one of two other installations.

Hansen, who began working with the brigade in 2003 -- before it relocated from Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, to Fort Sam Houston in 2004 -- listed a number of ways the program works with Soldiers to help them keep and increase their language skills, from scheduling local classes to sending them to DLI or the National Cryptologic School, to arranging "immersions" training in a country where the foreign language is the primary language spoken. Some foreign language speakers may even be sent to English classes.

"Some Spanish-speaking Soldiers may be fluent enough in Spanish to skip DLI and go directly to their other training," Hansen said. "However, some of them may need to improve their English, and we can help them with that too."

Hansen, who also supports training for the brigade's civilian personnel, doesn't manage the brigade's language program alone; the brigade's subordinate battalions and its 401st MI Company have language program managers too, which is helpful because all but two of the battalions are geographically separated from brigade headquarters.

The language managers make a "concerted effort" to provide six weeks of training for Soldiers before each one takes the Defense Language Proficiency Test, according to Hansen. This annual requirement ensures linguists are maintaining their language skill level.

"If a Soldier fails, a lot of focus is brought upon them," said Hansen, who related that the failing Soldier then undergoes counseling, more language classes and a retest at the end of six months. If the Soldier fails the retake, the process repeats itself. A second failure could result in reclassification of the Soldier to another occupational specialty. However, within the 470th MI Brigade, third failures have been rare.

Hansen said they look at the test as a means not only to ascertain the Soldiers' language proficiency but also to determine how well the language training is working.

"We are constantly evaluating the needs as well as the learning styles," Hansen said. "Some students may have trouble listening -- which is vital if they are cryptologic linguists -- while others may have trouble with writing or speaking."

Consequently, different students will find different learning methods more effective for them.

"A lot of additional resources are online," Hansen noted. "But nothing beats one-on-one with an instructor."