ROTC Bonuses Beef Up Services’ Language Capacity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2011 — A Defense Depart­ment pilot pro­gram to add for­eign lan­guage pro­fi­cien­cy to its offi­cer corps is grow­ing dra­mat­i­cal­ly, the department’s head of for­eign lan­guages said.
The depart­ment began the ROTC Skill Pro­fi­cien­cy Bonus in 2008 at the request of Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates to encour­age the study of lan­guages crit­i­cal to the armed ser­vices.

Con­gress autho­rized DOD’s request as part of the 2009 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act, and the pilot pro­gram is fund­ed through the Ser­vices until the end of 2013, when the autho­riza­tion expires.

Although it began with just 29 stu­dents, the pro­gram has grown to more than 1,800, Nan­cy Weaver, direc­tor of the Defense Lan­guage Office, said dur­ing a Feb. 18 inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice and the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel.

“We want to make sure all the ROTC per­son­nel get wind of it and it doesn’t lose its momen­tum,” Weaver said.

The pro­gram pays a skill pro­fi­cien­cy bonus to qual­i­fied ROTC stu­dents who take for­eign lan­guage or cul­ture class­es, Weaver said. Stu­dents can earn as much as $3,000 per year, depend­ing on the class­es they take. The high­est stipends are paid advanced-lev­el class­es in high-demand, strate­gic lan­guages such as Chi­nese, Japan­ese, Ara­bic, Swahili, Uzbek, Dari and Pash­to, she said.

Stu­dents can take part in lan­guage immer­sion pro­grams that send them to a for­eign coun­try for two to four weeks in the sum­mer, which Weaver added is a great way to improve lan­guage skills.

The pro­gram is impor­tant for giv­ing young offi­cers a bet­ter foun­da­tion for mil­i­tary ser­vice, Weaver said. “We’re liv­ing in a very glob­al envi­ron­ment, more so than any oth­er time in his­to­ry,” she said. “We find that our offi­cers need a glob­al per­spec­tive.”

Stu­dents do not have to be lan­guage or lin­guis­tics majors to qual­i­fy for bonus­es, Weaver said, and most will find they don’t use the lan­guages dai­ly when they enter ser­vice. Still, she added, the back­ground makes them bet­ter-pre­pared offi­cers and gives them high-val­ue skills.

“It gives you insight and under­stand­ing into a coun­try or cul­ture,” Weaver said. “It’s that glob­al per­spec­tive that makes a more aware offi­cer who is flex­i­ble and adapt­able regard­less of the envi­ron­ment they are put into.

“It makes them mis­sion ready and more expe­di­tionary pre­pared,” she added.

The Depart­ment of Defense Edu­ca­tion Activ­i­ty pro­vides for­eign lan­guage class­es in its ele­men­tary schools. In addi­tion, DOD’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Edu­ca­tion Pro­gram sup­ports part­ner­ships with schools in Ore­gon and Ohio, where stu­dents begin learn­ing Chi­nese lan­guages in the first grade. Suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of the for­eign lan­guage pro­gram through high school makes them eli­gi­ble for a schol­ar­ship at par­tic­i­pat­ing flag­ship uni­ver­si­ties, she not­ed.

While demand for for­eign lan­guages is increas­ing in the mil­i­tary, in cor­po­ra­tions and among stu­dents, Weaver said, some col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are reduc­ing for­eign lan­guage cours­es as a cost-sav­ing mea­sure.

“Unfor­tu­nate­ly, not a lot of pro­grams require lan­guage study,” she said. “It used to be a require­ment for a col­lege degree, but that’s not been the case for the past sev­er­al years. A num­ber of insti­tu­tions do not teach lan­guages at all.”

ROTC stu­dents at col­leges that don’t offer for­eign lan­guages should ask whether their school has an agree­ment with anoth­er school in the area to take part in a lan­guage pro­gram, Weaver said. The bonus could be used toward that pro­gram, she added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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