U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords delivered the commencement address at the elite Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, a military training center playing a key role in combating global terrorism.
Giffords, a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, spoke to students after getting a first-hand glimpse of a facility that works closely with Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista to provide warriors with critical language and cultural skills.
“The Defense Language Institute is an integral part of the training needed by the intelligence specialists who are at the tip of the spear of our nation’s defenses,” Giffords said in her address. “Combined with the Culture Center and Intel Center at Fort Huachuca, the things these students learn at the Defense Language Institute make them better, more agile and more combat effective.”
Giffords also met with institute faculty and students, including Crystal Little and Amy Lavelle, service members with family in the congresswoman’s district.
The Defense Language Institute serves as a school for all branches of the armed forces, other members of the United States government and select foreign allies. Located in Monterey, Calif., the school is regarded as one of the best foreign language instruction programs in the world. It employs more than 1,700 instructors and teaches 24 languages and multiple dialects.
Giffords has long championed the need for language proficiency and greater cultural awareness as our military faces the unconventional threats of the post-9/11 world. She has introduced legislation aimed at boosting the number of service men and women armed with these skills.
“Cultural knowledge and linguistic ability are some of our best weapons in the epic struggle against terrorism,” Giffords told institute students. “Mastering these weapons can mean the difference between victory and defeat on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Thursday’s graduation ceremony honored students who have completed instruction in Turkish, German, Tagalog and the Persian dialect Dari. Giffords also toured the Naval Postgraduate School with retired Vice Admiral Daniel Oliver, the school’s president.
“As we begin looking at the areas of the world where terrorists and extremism have had safe havens, we are discovering the advantages that knowledge of these languages can bring,” Giffords said. “When people are put into desperate situations and we seek to persuade them to choose freedom over jihad, it helps to speak their language. These service members will be on the front lines of that battle.”