FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Sixty paratroopers of the Fury Brigade 4th Combat Team (BCT), 82nd Airborne Division, graduated from a 16-week Dari language program June 27, becoming the first group of Soldiers to have completed training at the newly established Afghanistan/Pakistan (AFPAK) General Purpose Force (GPF) Language Training Detachment (LTD).
The course, administered by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC), is designed to teach basic language and culture skills to predeploying Soldiers and provide language-enabled servicemembers who will be key to successful combined operations with Afghan coalition partners.
“Our students received phenomenal results,” said Chely McAninch, Intelligence Readiness and Training Support Integrator, as well as language program manager for the XVIII Airborne Corps. “More than 50 percent received a 1/1 and six students even received a 1+/1+,” she said, referring to the levels of proficiency students achieved, as measured by the Interagency Language Roundtable scale.
At the graduation, top students in the class held a speech in Dari and translated it into English, thanking their instructors and other staff who helped them in their language studies.
“You will be the biggest asset to your units…practice, so you don’t lose it,” said DLIFLC Command Sgt. Maj. Tracey Bellotte, who was guest speaker at the graduation.
“I believe it is our secret weapon,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Sturdevant. “They are the ones who are going to be really able to turn around a lot of the misconceptions that the Afghans have about Americans. I have seen it in our deployments…We are really excited about this (new) capability that we have."
Though Soldiers stepped up to the plate bravely, some admit that it was challenging, yet rewarding. “At first it was hard to grasp….understand what the grammar structure was, verbs at the end of sentences, adjectives after the nouns. It was tricky at first but once you get the hang of it, it not as bad as it seems. Reading from right to left becomes just as natural as left to right,” said Pvt. 1st Class Nicholas Olivas.
“I feel that what I learned over the last 16 weeks will definitely help to better the unit I am in to understand more of the culture when we go over there,” said Olivas, adding that the native Afghan instructors taught students the dos and don’ts of the culture.
“I studied hard, but you can never study enough. I studied only two hours a night, but if I were to do it again, I would study every night until it was buried in my brain,” he said.
The establishment of the AFPAK GPF LTD at Fort Bragg is the fifth such program instituted in support of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) commanders for improved counterinsurgency and foreign language training for units participating in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. In Jan 2010, the Department of the Army provided guidance and funds to support the activation of the AFPAK GPF programs that would provide one language-enabled solider per platoon. While DLIFLC provides curriculum, technology, and administrative support, the LTDs at Forts Campbell, Carson, Drum, and Schofield Barracks, provide the facilities.
“It is an extremely important program, it is a vital part of the counterinsurgency strategy of the commanders of ISAF…We have had over 700 Soldiers graduate and they achieve a very good level of language ability in a short amount of time,” said Steve Collins, assistant provost of Field Support and Directorate of Continuing Education at DLIFLC.
At the completion of the course, the students are tested for spoken language proficiency with the use of the two-skilled Oral Proficiency Test.
“The course is very tactically focused, … we are not so worried if they can rent a room in a hotel, a car, or buy fruit from vendor at the local bazaar, but we are concerned if they can do the sorts of things in country that will make them successful,” said Collins, who explained that exercises focused on military tasks such as manning a checkpoint, investigating an incident, or negotiating with local mullahs.
Story and photos Natela Cutter, Strategic Communications Class photo courtesy Department of Defense