Language latest weapon in America's 21st century arsenal

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Apr 20 21:13:36 UTC 2005

>>From American Forces Press Service

Language latest weapon in America's 21st century arsenal

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Despite the tremendous advances in military hardware
and technology on display in the war on terrorism, there are still some
capabilities only humans can provide.

That was the thinking behind a new initiative to improve foreign language
and cultural expertise at the Defense Department, said a top DOD official
who stressed the importance of language in worldwide military operations.
Language has always been important in the Department of Defense, Dr. David
S.C. Chu said, but it is particularly important now, because we are
operating in parts of the world where English is not widely spoken, where
we need to work with local leaders and local populations, and where we
need to understand more about their culture. Dr. Chu is undersecretary of
defense for personnel and readiness.

We simply must develop a greater capacity for languages that reflect the
demands of this century, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in
announcing the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap on March 30. No
technology delivers this capability; it is a truly human skill that our
forces must have to win, and that we must have to keep the peace. The
roadmap is a commitment to our men and women that they will have that
skill and ability, Secretary Rumsfeld said

Translators acting as go-betweens are not the whole solution, Dr. Chu
said. We need to communicate better, he said, and while you can always do
that through translators, a great deal, as we used to say, gets lost in
translation. Dr. Chu praised the Defense Language Institute in Monterey,
Calif., for instilling a good reading and listening capacity in its
foreign-language students in a year to 18 months.

Its a terrific program, he said, but, its not enough. It doesnt take
people as far as we now need them to go. Department officials are
beginning a new effort to broaden language competency within the military
ranks and challenge more officers and enlisted people to develop language
skills, Dr. Chu said.

He said the program has four primary goals:

-- Broaden the linguistic and cultural knowledge base in the uniformed and
civilian ranks.

-- Develop the ability to respond quickly to crisis requirements.

-- Produce a cadre of linguists proficient at a much higher level.

-- Develop a database of linguists and their levels of competence so that
when there is a need the talent can be brought to bear.

In the past, linguistic and cultural expertise were not regarded as
warfighting skills, and thus were not sufficiently incorporated into
operational or contingency planning, Dr. Chu said. That is not the case

Besides the possibility of conflict against enemies who speak less
commonly taught languages, the new roadmap outlines several other reasons
for an increased foreign-linguist capacity in DOD:

-- Robust language and foreign expertise are critical to sustaining
coalitions, pursuing regional stability and conducting multinational

-- Changes in the international security environment, as well as the range
of potential conflict zones, expand the number of likely partners with
whom U.S. forces will work.

-- The U.S. militarys new global footprint and transition to a more
expeditionary force will bring increased requirements for foreign
languages and regional knowledge.

-- Adversaries who attempt to manipulate the media leverage sympathetic
elements of a population or politicians to divide international

While technology, including language technology, is helpful, Dr. Chu said
technology will never replace a smart human being.

Todays Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, he said, are so much smarter
than ever before. At the same time, we are asking a lot more of them. And
we recognize that that young corporal on the line in Iraq is making
decisions that affect the foreign policy for the United States, and if we
can give him or her a little bit of an edge -- linguistically -- (he or
she is) going to be far more effective.

Dr. Chu said he would like to encourage all young people to think about
language as a skill -- a skill they can acquire.

And its a warfighting skill, a skill we need in the theater. Its important
that we not only acquire it, but keep it sharp over time, he said.

by Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

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