When soldiers are stationed abroad, they are immersed in foreign language and culture, sometimes without the proficiency necessary to be successful.
But with new grants from the National Security Education Program, one at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, military officials hope to change that.
“(U.S. Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta has come out and said that language and culture is a key component of our strategies in going forward,” said Ed McDermott, senior program manager of The Language Flagship at NSEP. “Gen. (Stanley) McChrystal, before he left, stated that especially in Afghanistan, language-enabled soldiers are a good and help us overcome a number of challenges.”
North Georgia received $150,000 to pilot a Department of Defense Language Training Center on its campus as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, which instructed NSEP to create the language training centers.
“This is just another successful story for North Georgia,” said Col. Michael Pyott, a professor of military science at the university. “I’m proud in two ways. I’m proud for the recognition the university is receiving from the Army ... The second way I’m proud is that I’m an (alumnus) and to see my school get this recognition and become a global institution, in some ways it’s mind-blowing.”
McDermott said North Georgia is one of five institutions that competed for and won the language training center grant.
Others are San Diego State University, California State University-Long Beach, University of Montana and North Carolina State University.
“The grant is really an outcropping of what we have been doing with strategic language and intensive language training,” said Chris Jespersen, dean of the School of Arts and Letters at North Georgia.
The Language Training Center at the college will take newly graduated and newly commissioned second lieutenants on campus next summer for 12 weeks. The language and culture training will then be followed by an eight-week study abroad for the officers, Jespersen said. The pilot year will include 15 to 20 students learning Arabic and Chinese, with the possibility of Russian being added in the future as North Georgia continues to develop that program.
Pyott said the culture immersion will take place at universities in Liaocheng, China, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Morocco, though North Georgia is pursuing other opportunities as well.
He said the program will be similar to the language camps North Georgia does in the summer for high school students who want to pursue careers in the military or international affairs.
“This is what the Department of Defense wants them to learn. They have a very long list of languages, but these are the ones we offer here,” Jespersen said, adding many of the languages are from areas where there is a potential for military conflict.
McDermott said there is a lag time between when cadets graduate college and are actually enlisted. He said North Georgia got its grant to “fill a very specific hole,” to take these students and give them specialized language training they could not get if they went home after graduation.
“We’re trying to find a way to capitalize on that lag time,” McDermott said. “Once they become an officer, the military wants them to do something, to have a job. Adding language training delays that calendar.”
McDermott said military universities across the country applied for the grants. Their applications were then peer-reviewed and ranked.
“Language training centers are specifically targeted to use resources available to help prevent language and culture training shortfalls,” he said.
McDermott said there is a “total force” need of all military branches, plus civilians who work in the armed forces, to get a better grasp on culture and languages in conflict areas.
Jespersen said North Georgia should be able to underwrite the cost of officers attending the training center, thanks to the grant.
The grant covers tuition and a stipend for the officers, and payment for faculty, McDermott said. He said officials want the officers to have “as free a ride as possible.” Because the grants were implemented in several schools, he said a national curriculum must be put together.
“(The cadets) graduate and they will be stationed abroad. Look at the last 20 years and see where the U.S. has been involved ... Panama, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq. In terms of training them, preparing them, if they have an understanding of the language and culture, they’re going to be better off,” Jespersen said.
He said the grant was part of North Georgia’s institutional identity.
McDermott said he was unsure if the grant will be available again after this first year, but if it is offered a second time, the schools that established language training centers this year will be in a better position to re-apply.
“We were kind of in that Magic 8 Ball where the signs point to ‘yes,’ but we’re in a tight budget,” McDermott said. “Our focus is on first creating the process and over time work on making it institutionalized. Our real hope is we have another one or two years so we can entrench it well.”