USA — First DOD Language Summit to Set Future Strategy

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2011 — After a five-year effort to insti­tute process­es need­ed to gauge ser­vice mem­bers’ for­eign-lan­guage skills, the Defense Depart­ment will hold a sum­mit this month to help in forg­ing a sys­tem­at­ic path for­ward, the direc­tor of the Defense Lan­guage Office said yes­ter­day.

Nan­cy Weaver told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice that DOD issued the Defense Lan­guage Trans­for­ma­tion Roadmap in 2005 that cre­at­ed her office, which was over­seen by the under­sec­re­tary of defense for per­son­nel and readiness. 

Each ser­vice and orga­ni­za­tion also set up senior lan­guage author­i­ties, she said. 

“Pri­or to the roadmap, we did not know what our capa­bil­i­ty was,” Weaver said. “We tracked pro­fes­sion­al lin­guists in the depart­ment, but if you were lan­guage-capa­ble, we nev­er asked the question. 

“Now when you come in, if you are a civil­ian or a mil­i­tary [ser­vice mem­ber], you have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to tell us what lan­guage you speak,” she added. 

The roadmap con­tains the ratio­nale for its cre­ation: “Post 9/11 mil­i­tary oper­a­tions rein­force the real­i­ty that the Depart­ment of Defense needs a sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved organ­ic capa­bil­i­ty in emerg­ing lan­guages and dialects, a greater com­pe­tence and region­al area skills in those lan­guages and dialects, and a surge capa­bil­i­ty to rapid­ly expand its lan­guage capa­bil­i­ties on short notice.” 

Since estab­lish­ing the infra­struc­ture need­ed to quan­ti­fy its lan­guage capa­bil­i­ties, DOD has doc­u­ment­ed more than 250,000 mil­i­tary mem­bers and 33,000 civil­ian per­son­nel test­ed and self-iden­ti­fied as hav­ing for­eign-lan­guage skills, said Brad­ford Loo, deputy direc­tor for cul­ture in the Defense Lan­guage Office. 

Loo said the totals include per­son­nel with more than one lan­guage, and more than 340 lan­guages are list­ed in the office’s inventory. 

“We did­n’t know we had this rich resource, and the roadmap helped us get this capa­bil­i­ty,” Weaver said. “It also allowed us to doc­u­ment and [deter­mine] our require­ments. We’re still work­ing on that.” 

The roadmap also required the ser­vices for the first time to set up recruit­ing plans for lan­guage speak­ers, the direc­tor added. 

Now that the infra­struc­ture is estab­lished, Weaver said, the Pen­ta­gon and the ser­vices are ready to move beyond the roadmap and begin in an orga­nized way to improve and bol­ster DOD’s nation­al lan­guage, region­al and cul­tur­al capabilities. 

The first step in that process begins Jan. 25–26, dur­ing the DOD Lan­guage and Cul­ture Sum­mit here, Weaver said. The 250 to 300 par­tic­i­pants will include offi­cials from DOD and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies, experts from acad­e­mia, sci­en­tists, and peo­ple such as com­bat­ant com­man­ders who have an inter­est in the topic. 

Speak­ers will dis­cuss the devel­op­ment of lan­guage, region­al and cul­tur­al skills rang­ing from the edu­ca­tion of pre-kinder­garten through high school stu­dents to train­ing DOD personnel. 

“We’ll be dis­cussing the role of tech­nol­o­gy — what we’re doing and how we can deploy it bet­ter,” Weaver said. 

“Tech­nol­o­gy is not as advanced as, nor will it ever take the place of, human inter­ac­tion,” she added. “But there is a place for tech­nol­o­gy, and we want to make sure that we exploit it to gain the best effi­cien­cies we can.” 

On the last day of the sum­mit, expert pan­els will present action plans for the future and dis­cuss the way forward. 

“We think the depart­ment has done a lot,” Weaver said. “We’ve made tremen­dous progress but we haven’t crossed the fin­ish line and that’s why this impor­tant step is need­ed. We can’t lose the momen­tum we gained from the roadmap. But because we need to go in a more struc­tured and more effi­cient man­ner for­ward, the sum­mit is going to be the first step to get us there.” 

Weaver said DOD will be a mod­el for a nation whose cit­i­zens all will ben­e­fit from improv­ing their knowl­edge of oth­er lan­guages and cultures. 

“There’s a desire for lan­guage to be taught pre-kinder­garten all the way through col­lege so that we can enrich our recruit­ing mar­ket,” Weaver said. “But also it strength­ens Amer­i­ca, which strength­ens nation­al security.” 

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

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