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01/26/2012
Vice Admiral Harward says organic language capability is mission critical
MONTEREY, Calif., -- Vice Admiral Robert Harward, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM),  has firsthand experience using locally contracted interpreters as a part of his current job, but also  from previous experience, during and after the war in the former Yugoslavia that raged from 1992 to 1995.

“We have always been able to contract and bring in local interpreters. As we saw in Bosnia, … the separate factions and the different perspectives of those factions played out in your translation,” said Harward during his visit to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) Jan. 23.

“I think that (misinterpretation) is true now. I had a local Afghan translator but his perceptions tainted not only what he said but when he relayed it back to me,” explained Harward.  

“When I had my own U.S. linguist there, trained military, who had a different military perspective, I knew I would not lose any of the nuances I made, either with translating or receiving that message with the local elders, governors, etc.”

Maintaining and increasing foreign language and cultural training skills for the force has been identified as a critical enabler, at a time when the Department of Defense is implementing severe budget cuts and establishing a new set of defense priorities that include a smaller and leaner, but more agile and rapidly effective force.

“The past 10 years have reinforced it, more now than ever, that language and cultural skills are critical, especially as we move forward in our Counterinsurgency efforts and our broader approach,” said Harward, whose area of responsibility at CENTCOM includes 20 nations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

“I think, in the years ahead, that we will be challenged both in capacity and capabilities. The force enablers that those language skills bring change the battlefield for us, especially in our region, the CENTCOM region more so than ever,” he said.

Harward, a fluent speaker of Persian Farsi, having graduated from the Teheran American High School while his family was stationed in Iran in the early 1970s, visited a class of students in the final stages of their 48-week course. “I commend you for your fluency and ability to converse at such high levels of proficiency,” commented Harward, who also joined in the conversation in Farsi during the observation.

“I think that skill set, (and) our ability to generate from within, will pay big dividends in a critical part of the overall equation and force we will need as we go forward,” said Harward at the end of his visit, before departing for the nearby Naval Postgraduate School where he had an opportunity to talk with Foreign Area Officers pursuing their Master’s Degrees in areas vital to national security, often after or before attending DLIFLC to learn a language relevant to their area of study.


Story and Photo

Natela Cutter, Strategic Communications

Photo Caption:

Vice Admiral Robert Harward, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, speaks with students at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center on Jan. 23 about the importance of their newly acquired Persian Farsi language skills. Harward, himself a speaker of Persian Farsi, says that the skill is a "force enabler."

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