Editor's Note: COL Outzen puts forth a compelling plea for the Army to pay more attention to promoting language proficiency. The other services are similarly lacking in these fields. Although individual program managers are creating some bright spots, the truth is that poor personnel management and the burden of one-size-fits-all training preclude many servicemembers from attaining true professionalism in their fields.
A decade of Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations have highlighted our military’s shortcomings in employing and understanding foreign languages, the people who speak them, and various types of knowledge derived from language communities. The Department of Defense had identified this critical capability gap by 2004, and by 2005 had directed the Services to treat language capabilities as a core warfighting skill akin to marksmanship. This implied significant organizational and cultural change within the Army and sister Services, which have traditionally viewed foreign language skill as a niche meriting limited and episodic attention. Six years have elapsed, though, and the Services have failed to produce doctrine, organizations, or practices that can be considered transformative. Instead, they have applied band-aid approaches by contracting out language and related capabilities, while not reforming the way the fielded forces train for or employ language and related skills in any significant way. Given emphatic calls from senior leaders such as the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Chief of Staff of the Army, it is hard to understand why the Army has made such little progress.
That we have not successfully transformed is beyond dispute among those paying attention since the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap was published. With massive cuts to the DoD budget looming, though, simply recognizing failure is insufficient; the Army and DoD must develop coherent and effective responses sooner rather than later. The response must both be effective and survive budget austerity, which rules out much of the Army’s current approach. This essay offers a series of observations about why and how we have failed to transform language and related capabilities, and presents several recommendations for successfully moving ahead. The observations focus on the U.S. Army’s efforts, since the Army has the preponderance of resources and responsibilities for DoD language and culture operations, but are broadly applicable for the other Services as well.
Via Charles Tiayon