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DLIFLC instructor retires after 55 years of service

MONTEREY, CA., - An instructor from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center retired June 26, after 55 years of service as a teacher, project manager, and dean.

"I owe a lot to DLI, the Army, and to this country. If I had stayed in Iran... who knows?  This country gave me opportunities to succeed as a teacher and a manager," said Dr. Mahmood Tabatabai, at his retirement luncheon attended by his closest colleagues.

"Initially, I started out studying economics and thought I would teach that subject," said Tabatabai, 92, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1951 as a student and attended Ohio State and Columbia University. "Then someone told me about the Army Language School and I applied. It changed my entire life. The Army gave me a lot and I am very grateful," he said. 

Tabatabai accepted a Persian Farsi teaching position at the then Army Language School (ALS) in 1959. "I remember the day I received the Western Union telegram," that announced his acceptance for the job, he recounted with a smile.

"He was known as the 'dapper gentleman' from DLI," said DLIFLC Provost Dr. Betty Lou Leaver, who recounted how people from other agencies referred to him because he was always smartly dressed, and they had difficulties pronouncing his name. "He was the first person who came to greet me in my office when I came to work at DLI from the Foreign Service Institute in 1983. I will never forget that day," she said.

During the course of his career at DLIFLC, Tabatabai served as dean of three different schools.  In 1980 he succeeded Yutaka Munakata, one of the first four original instructors of Japanese at DLI as Academic Policy Coordinator, a precursor of the position that would later be titled Provost. 

In 1968, Tabatabai was one of the first ALS instructors to be given Army tuition assistance in order to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Berkeley. Today, instructors continue to receive support from the Institute toward their higher education goals.


Tabatabai also left his mark as the first director of Academic Administration, helping to usher DLIFLC's student records systems into the electronic age in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Additionally, he was a primary negotiator for DLIFLC's achievement of gaining accreditation and having the ability to grant students an Associate of Arts degree in foreign language.

After 9/11, Tabatabai was chosen to establish a new language department that would contain languages such as the Iraqi dialect, Dari, Pashto, Tadzik, Uzbek, Urdu, and Georgian. The department, called Operation Enduring Freedom Task Force (OEFTF), was stood up within three months after 9/11 with curriculum being written just days before teachers entered the classrooms. OEFTF was the first to issue laptops to students and install interactive whiteboards in every classroom. This effectively influenced DLIFLC leadership to invest into using technology as a vital tool in foreign language instruction.


Story and Photo Credits 

Story by Ed Boring, Knowledge Management Photo 1 courtesy Dr. Tabatabai Photo 2 by Natela Cutter, Mission PAO

Photo 2 Caption: (L-R) Dr. Betty Lou Leaver, DLIFLC Provost, Mrs. Tabatabai, DLIFLC Commandant Col. David K. Chapman, Dr. Tabatabai, DLIFLC Assistant Commandant Col. Ginger Wallace, Undergraduate Education Associate Provost Dr. Jim Zhao, and Persian Farsi Dean Dr. Shensheng Zhu.

DLIFLC 1759 Lewis Rd. Bldg 614, Ste. 251 - Presidio of Monterey - Monterey, CA 93944 (831) 242-7176, (DSN-768)