Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Where are our Arabic linguists?

I ran into this piece by Fred Kaplan at Slate.com and glad that someone finally exposed the assanine stupidity at the Defense Department. For a former soldier like myself who is very familiar with the issue, I find myself laughing and crying at the same time. And we have been crying since September 11, 2001. No one understand the pain of bureaucracy more than a soldier who has to deal with it on a daily basis. I was the very reason I left the Army.
On September 11, 2001, there were all together three Pashtun linguists in the entire US Army. Those Pashtun linguist were all native speakers because there was no Pashtun program at the Defense Language Institute (DLI), a place where all US Armed Forces linguists are trained. There were stories of Special Forces soldiers who had to communicate with the Northern Alliance in Russian.

I, who native tongue is other than English, did not have to go through the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California. But many of my peers did. And the large number of my fellow linguists are Russian linguists. Most of my friends who went through the institutes during 1999 and 2000 said that the Russian language program in DLI was the largest program, twice as large as the second largest program. Arabic program was in third place. The year was 2000 and Russian was the largest program in DLI. One would have thought that the policy makers at the Pentagon did not follow current events and did not realize that the Soviet Union had collapsed ten years prior. One must also assume that those genius were completely unaware that Islamic fundamentalism was on the rise, hence the need for Arabic; or that Osama Bin Laden who had carried out at least five major attacks against the US were residing in Afghanistan and that Pashtu should be add to the curriculum.

And it get sadder. According to Slate.com article, The document name "Defense Language Program Roadmap," which supposed to adjust our language program post September 11, did not appear until November 2002, more than a year too late. The document laid in limbo for another nine months. In the mean time, nothing was being done. In August 2003, as US soldiers were dying on the street of Baghdad, the document was revised, re-drafted and put out again. A study - just a study - to implement the program did not begin until September 2003, two years after the worst terrorist attack. The study took seven months. A recommendation was not made until July and it was not approved until August 31st.

If reader think that the agony ended there and an overdue and much need program was in place. The sadness did not end there, but in fact got a whole lot sadder. In fact, it would cause one to vormit nonstop for several days. The plan had ridiculous deadline for implementation, which supposedly happen in phase. "Publish a DoD Instruction providing guidance for language program management." Not a language program itself, just simply a guidance for mangement it. And the deadline for this guidance is July 2005. And there are deadlines after deadlines. "Develop a language readiness index" to "measure capabilities and identify gaps." Deadline: September 2005. "Conduct a … screening of all military and civilian personnel for language skills," in order to establish a database. Deadline: December 2005. "Ensure doctrine, policies, and planning-guidance reflect the need for language requirements in operational, contingency, and stabilization planning." Deadline: March 2006. "To increase the pool of potential language personnel … ensure the automated Defense Language Aptitude Battery is available at appropriate locations … including recruiters, military entrance processing stations, ROTC staff, and Service Academy staffs, to identify recruits/cadets with language learning potential." Deadline: January 2007. "Establish 'crash' or 'survival' courses for deploying forces." Deadline: September 2007. Develop and sustain a personnel information system that maintains accurate data on all DoD personnel skilled in foreign-language and regional expertise. Work closely to ensure stabilized data entry and management procedures." Deadline: September 2008. All together seven years. And reader should keep in mind that the dealines described are just to set up a management system to improving the language program, not the language program itself. That no one know when it will happen.

For a man who take prize in coming up with "military transformation," the Secretary of Defense take seven years to come up with a simple language program, while our soldiers are continued dying on the battle fields. The shortage of linguists contribute to prolonging the war and indirectly more US casualties. If Bremmer and Gross are the indicators, one should not be surprise that the people who were responsible for our language program did not receive a pink slip or even a reprimand. If anything, they propably got promotions if not awards. Well done, for being unpatriotic bastards.

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