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DLIFLC commandant examines language mission in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan – Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Commandant, Col. Danial D. Pick, spent a week during the Sept. 11 ten-year anniversary examining the Institute’s language mission in Afghanistan.

"I wanted to take a look at how effective our language training had been down range, and to be able to take those lessons learned back to the Institute to help improve our programs,” stated Pick.

DLIFLC has an active role in teaching language and culture to members of the Afghanistan/Pakistan (AFPAK) Hands, a program initiated by Adm. Mike Mullen in 2009 to train officers and senior enlisted servicemembers language and culture, enabling them establish rapport with the Afghan people and aid in the transition of power from coalition partners to the Afghan government.  

“What I found out was very encouraging,” said Pick. “Our AFPAK Hands are doing tremendous work on all levels. Some of them are working in Afghan ministries, some are in the Afghan Presidential Palace directly liaising ISAF (International Security Afghanistan Force) leadership with President (Hamid) Karzai, while others are working outside of the capital on local levels, helping with reconstruction and development.”

“It is amazing to see the motivation in the AFPAK Hands, to realize that their language and culture abilities are able to transcend all barriers and that their work, as a result, is very effective,” said Pick, speaking about the program that currently consists of 190 servicemembers on the ground in Afghanistan.

In addition to speaking to AFPAK Hands who have been in the field for up to 16 months, Pick spoke with a new cohort of eleven servicemembers who had just arrived in country and were attending Counterinsurgency training at Camp Julien.

“I came in with some language experience with Pashto so I was bored at first, but they were able to cater to my needs, and because they were able to flex, I got what I needed and graduated with a 2+ in Pashto,” said Capt. Jonathan Lovelace, who acknowledged that he wasn’t the typical AFPAK Hands student. “But a buddy of mine, who is going to work with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, had no background in the language and got a 1+,” explained Lovelace.

“I trained in Dari, in the (Washington DC) capital region. My teachers were awesome, I could ask them anything, and they were very adaptive, they focused on what I needed, on my weaknesses, which was really good,” said Capt. Tobias Petros. Some 80 miles to the east of Kabul, Pick traveled to Jalalabad, in the Nangarhar province, to speak with Soldiers who had received training from DLIFLC and currently work as translators/interpreters, as a part of the 09Lima program that recruits into the Army individuals with language skills and subsequently deploys them for year at a time to conflict regions.  

“I wanted to find out how they felt about the effectiveness of their training in relation to the mission they are executing. I found that their skills were being put to good use at FOB Fenty and that they were very happy to be there,” commented Pick, speaking about the two specialists stationed at the Forward Operating Base – Fenty.   “I love my job,” said Spc. Jahan Acheson, who has been at FOB Fenty for four months. “We manage the (local national) linguists here, make sure that the materials are translated for leadership properly, and work with the local Afghan border police and Afghan National Army on a daily basis.”

“It is important to be able to recognize which translator has the skills needed, to make sure people are put in the right place,” Acheson continued. “I also make sure that they (local national interpreters) are taken care of, that they have been paid on time, or take care of any other issues they may have.”

While in Jalalabad, Pick also had an opportunity to speak with a medic who had graduated from the DLFILC 16-week language program at one of the Institute’s five Language Training Detachments, where the mission is to train one language enabled Solider per platoon as a part of predeployment training.

“Learning Dari is the best thing the Army ever did for me,” said Spc. Kellie Briscoe, who works at the FOB Fenty clinic and uses her Dari language skills as often as possible with locals who seek medical attention. “My goal was to become fluent in Dari and I graduated with a relatively high score, but I wish I had more opportunity to use the language. I have told our interpreters that they are not allowed to speak English with me.”

Though Briscoe mostly treats servicemembers who are deployed to FOB Fenty, her language skills come in handy to break the ice with locals, ask simple questions about their health condition, and ease their fears of being at a medical facility in unknown surroundings.

Aside from treating patients inside FOB Fenty, Briscoe occasionally has the opportunity to go beyond the compound walls. “I went out as a medic, and I had to use (Dari) it to treat several  truck drivers who were injured, so it has been very beneficial.”

“What I am concerned about is the tracking of all these individuals with language skills and providing them with the follow-on training they need, to ensure that their knowledge does not atrophy and diminish,” said Pick. “We are investing a lot of money into this training and I want to make sure that we reap the benefits of our investment,” he concluded. 

By Natela Cutter

Strategic Communication, DLIFLC

Caption: Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Commandant Col Danial Pick (left) speaks with Afghanistan/Pakistan (AFPAK) Hands, a program initiated by Adm. Mike Mullen in 2009 to train officers and senior enlisted servicemembers language and culture, enabling them establish rapport with the Afghan people and aid in the transition of power from coalition partners to the Afghan government.  Pick was interested in feedback from AFPAK members about their language training.

Caption: Spc. Kellie Brisco, a medic at Forward Operating Base, Fenty, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, examines Najeeb Atal, who still carries pieces of shrapnel from an explosion in his legs and back. Brisco graduated from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Institute 16-week language program at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, before deploying to her current station where she uses the Dari language as much as possible with local patients.

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