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08/05/2010
Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division speak Dari

By the end of a 16-week language course in Dari, 55 soldiers planning to deploy with the 10th Mountain Division to Afghanistan, stand in an auditorium and recite Dari phrases that are very foreign to the typical American during a graduation ceremony at the Fort Drum Mountain Language Academy 23 July.

All of the graduates are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in the spring of 2011 and most of the class is bracing for their second or third deployment. The honor graduate, Staff Sgt. Michael Irwin, was surprised and happy to get the opportunity to go the extra mile in preparing for this deployment. Irwin, who is no stranger to Afghanistan with plenty of time in country, knows how difficult working in such a foreign cultural environment can be.

“During my last deployment, I was a squad leader in a unit that was working to train the Afghan National Army. It is really difficult to train a foreign military through a civilian interpreter who is not military. They just don’t understand some of the vocabulary,” said Irwin.

Irwin was approached by his leadership and was told that his company was looking for two “smart” guys. He didn’t quite know what was in store for him. His commander sent him to the Fort’s education center where he was told to take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery [DLAB]. Irwin did well with a score of a 107, which is an indicator that his brain will absorb a foreign language quickly. Irwin proved that score to be accurate with scoring a 1+ in his target language.

“I was excited, before this class, I had sat down on my own in Afghanistan and memorized as many phrases from a Dari language survival kit that I could, but it was a poor substitute for this class,” Irwin explained.

Although Irwin is enthusiastic about his upcoming deployment, the cynicism of a war weary Soldiers cracks through his professional demeanor.

“I think that the Soldiers who went through this course can be a force multiplier as long as the commanders are willing to use the guys they sent to this training right. If they put them with a 249 on a corner of a building where they don’t interact with locals, then sending them to this class is worthless,” Irwin explained.

According to Irwin, if the class was an extra month long, he is confident that he could get his abilities to the next level of proficiency, a 2.

The language program staff and the 10th Mountain Division command are planning to reset and have a few more cycles rotate through the course until the spring, when the troops plan to leave for Afghanistan.

Story and Photo Caption:

Brian Lamar, Strategic Communications

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