FORT CAMPBELL, KY., - Imagine walking up a dusty dirt road, gazing out at the mountains of Afghanistan, hearing the chatter of the open market with throngs of people buying and selling goods, haggling over the price of eggs, tomatoes, peppers, and chicken…with the only thing missing being the smell.
This is what the Eagle Language Training Center at Fort Campbell, Ky., provides for Soldiers studying Dari and Pashto for 16 weeks prior to deployment to Afghanistan.
“We have a very unique instructional concept here at the Language Training Detachment in that we are training General Purpose Force Soldiers versus intelligence Soldiers or linguists,” explained Libby Johnson, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Language Training Detachment (LTD) site director who manages the language program at Fort Campbell.
“Here, we try to really focus on the tactical aspects of the language; what they will be actually doing on a daily basis when they deploy to Afghanistan,” explained Johnson, adding that about 75 students are supported per iteration, with the expectation to produce Soldiers with a high novice to low intermediate level of language skills.
To help facilitate more realistic exposure to Afghan culture, Johnson has turned several rooms of the school into a virtual Afghan village, complete with props and wallpaper from ceiling to floor depicting real life images of the landscape.
“They [GPF students] tend to learn better when they are out of a traditional classroom environment, and so that kind of spurred the idea to have a cultural immersion center where they can integrate the cultural aspects of the language as they learn, and they can actually get some hands on visual tools to help them put these concepts together,” said Johnson.
The recently completed immersion facility includes a market area, a common area, a Key Leader Engagement room, and a government office to give Soldiers a realistic setting in which to practice their language, culture, and military skills.
“The students really have a good time with it. They really get involved and use all the props, and they ask if they can dress up and use the various tools that we have,” said Johnson.
Students aren’t the only ones who have been impressed by the facility and enjoy its authenticity. The instructors have also been wowed by the realistic images of their homeland.
“I love it, because honestly whenever I go back there it feels like I’m back home. Each room reminds me of a part of Afghanistan, it’s beautiful,” said Nadia Joya, Dari instructor and team coordinator at the Eagle Language Training Center.
Abdul Ghafoori, another Dari instructor, spoke about the advantages of having a realistic facility and how it has been received by the students. “Before we had these facilities here, and while we were doing role plays, it was not so realistic. So now that we have the facility of culture, most of the students, when they go through the culture room, come back [and] they say, ‘We were in Afghanistan just for a second, and now we are back in the States.”
The current group of students who are attending the course have already been deployed to Afghanistan, but did not receive language training at that time. They are more appreciative of the language training they are now receiving after experiencing some of the difficulties that a language barrier can create, and expect that their training will help them overcome those barriers for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
Speaking about his previous deployment, Staff Sgt. Maurice Williams of the third Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division said, “Working with the locals, local police forces and the army, sometimes there would be things, times when we were trying to articulate specifically what we needed them to do, and the language barrier was definitely there.”
But it is not just language alone that can create barriers. Culture, which is intimately tied to language, and understanding how other people think, can go a long way in alleviating the tension and frustration that may be caused by cultural misunderstandings.
“I learned a pretty fair amount of culture when I was in Afghanistan on our last deployment, but some of the background information they’ve [instructors] been able to fill in for me has greatly assisted with and enhanced my knowledge of Afghanistan and culture,” said Spc. Robert Higley, also attached to the 101st.
Williams also found the cultural training helpful, and learned “how they (Afghans) really hold individual relationships in high regard.” He went on to say, “Having this language, I’m almost eager to get back to Afghanistan to see what kind of impact it will have.”
Story and photos by
1st Lt. Scott Ghiringhelli, Strategic Communications