Training Linguists in the

101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

by Sergeant First Class David Robertson

bluebar2.gif (1476 bytes)

During the last few years, the linguists of the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion have played a key role in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Linguists from the 101st have performed well in numerous situations, from Operation DESERT STORM in the Middle East to Operation JOINT GUARD in the former Republic of Yugoslavia, and in operations in Haiti, South America, and Korea. Language diversity has been a key factor in their success, as they collectively speak several languages, including Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and Serbo-Croatian.


Language Training in Garrison

Language training and maintenance is not an easy task. To ensure that the Division can maintain a source of fluent linguists to serve as interrogators and voice interceptors, as well as to achieve the U.S. Forces Command requirement of ten hours of language maintenance per week, the Division constructed a special language training annex. This three-year-old $250,000 language facility provides a site for training, resource materials, and professional instructors. Authentic language material is available via the Internet, satellite communications, and from current newspapers and magazines. These media allow soldiers to enhance their language capabilities with the latest news, politics, economics, and entertainment from around the world. On-hand reference material covers more than a dozen languages------primarily Arabic and Korean.

page28.jpg (30536 bytes)

311th MI Battalion linguists use the internet for language training

In November 1996, the Division established an intensive language training program in Arabic and Korean, a course taught by professional, native speakers. Over the last year, the duration of the course has increased from one week to four weeks. The training covers such topics as military vocabulary and situations, current events, geography, grammar, and everyday civilian situations in the country of interest. The student-to-instructor ratio has been as low as 2:1, and never higher than 6:1. An impressive 94 percent of the students have improved their qualification scores to meet or exceed the Army standard.


Worldwide Training Opportunities

Other training opportunities exist for these motivated linguists. They can be selected to further apply their abilities in the tactical intelligence readiness training (REDTRAIN) program or in live-environment training (LET) at numerous sites worldwide. There is also the opportunity to conduct language immersion training in various foreign countries, and foreign language document exploitation at the National Ground Intelligence Center. Some of the more noteworthy assignment opportunities have been to Garmisch, Germany; Sanaa, Yemen; Camp Humphrey, Korea; and Malaga, Spain.

An additional Division asset to hone linguist skills is the TROJAN Classic system. It provides near-real-time, native language, voice intercept capabilities, and the possibility of improving perishable military occupational specialty skills.


Retaining Linguists

Maintaining linguists and their skills is a difficult responsibility of 311th MI Battalion due to duty assignment requirements. Korean linguists rarely remain at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, longer than one year. This usually provides a better linguist in terms of experience, but one year is not a very long time when several month-long deployments are factored into the equation. Arabic linguists, however, are assigned from two to four years. This limits the amount of expertise that can be expected from the primarily lower-grade soldiers, but much more time is available for training and immersion opportunities.



Language training is a challenge for most MI units in the Army. The 311th MI Battalion has placed a significant emphasis on seeking out and funding training for its linguists. As their performance in recent operations shows, our linguists use their talents to excel in their jobs and bring accolades to their home unit. Our training program and new facility should ensure that the linguists of the 311th MI Battalion will continue to serve the needs of the 101st well.

Sergeant First Class Robertson has transferred to Europe. He was most recently the Language manager for the 311th MI Battalion, and worked in the Analysis and Control Element before that, SFC Robertson also served nearly a year in Bosnia-Herzegovenia. Email at [email protected]