FORT BRAGG, N.C. – On a typically hot summer day at Fort Bragg, Special Forces are “braving” the weather in their air-conditioned classrooms with stacks of books on the table – all in Modern Standard Arabic.
Though life may seem considerably easier while sitting in a classroom, these Soldiers know that the success of their missions will most likely hinge on their ability to learn - and really understand – the Arabic Iraqi dialect, one of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.
“We are providing support for intermediate language courses which are designed to bring the students up to an Interagency Language Roundtable level 2,” said Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) Assistant Site Director Mike Carter, at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School’s (USAJFKSWCS) Directorate of Regional Studies and Education (DRSE). DRSE, a new directorate at USAJFKSWCS that is only two years old, has revamped the language and regional studies program for Civil Affairs, Military Information Support Operations and Special Forces Soldiers, putting a heavy emphasis on language and culture.
“We tailor our curriculum towards 'participatory speaking' and maintaining dialogue with our counterparts in near failing states, as well as rising economic powerhouse-nations. The Special Operations Force Operator's primary mission is to gain and maintain relationships under tough conditions in remote regions of the world,” said Maj. Ross Lightsey, director of language at DRSE. To broaden and improve the program, DRSA has made several changes. The number of languages taught in the initial acquisition course was augmented from eight to 13, an intermediate course was established with seven of the most critical languages, and the entire curriculum for both courses is being rewritten for Special Forces’ operational requirements.
“I’m very pleased with the growth of the program as we graduate over 2,100 students annually, most of whom are initial entry students. Language is a key component within our multiple Qualification Courses to develop Special Forces demolitions experts, medics, weapon specialists, etc.” Lightsey explained. Another significant shift occurred with the changing of the test of record, which had been the Defense Language Proficiency Test that measures reading and writing skills. Soldiers are now tested with the two-skill Oral Proficiency Test that measures participatory listening and speaking and is thought to be a more appropriate tool for Special Forces needs.
“We take guys who have demonstrated a capability in the basic course and achieved a 1+ or better, generally the top 10 to 15 percent of the class, and once they get through their Special Forces training, whether it be Civil Affairs, or Military Information Support, we bring those guys back for an additional six months for the intermediate course,” said 1st Sgt. Kevin Channey, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge for the language program in support of DRSE.
Though DLIFLC has assisted USAJFKSWCS for many years with its basic course programs, with the advent of creating a new intermediate course, some 20 DLIFLC instructors are providing support by the way of workshops, curriculum review and development, diagnostic assessment for students, and assistance in course design. USAJFKSWCS is also taking advantage of a DLIFLC-organized academic prep week during which students are taught learning styles, English grammar refresher, foreign language learning strategies, and test-taking skills.
“At the drop of a hat,…if a critical need arises for a language, we can create a curriculum, we can create a class and get Soldiers, who have the skills to learn a language, into the classroom and give the Unite States government a tool to use wherever they need it,” said Carter.
With only four to five students per classroom, instructors are able to spend more time working with students on an individual basis. “The teacher can identify their strengths and weaknesses and make a better and more rounded linguist,” explained Carter, who added that technology in the classroom also plays a large role in foreign language acquisition.
“We are very proud of our new programs,” said Lightsey, adding that USAJFKSWCS hopes to introduced a new advanced language course that would take Soldiers from a 2+/2+ to a 3/3 by 2012. “Having a language capability indisputably augments the SOF mission to De Oppresso Liber, or, Free the Oppressed,” he said.
Photos and story:
Natela Cutter, Strategic Communications