ARLINGTON, Va., – The newly constructed Georgia National Guard Language Training Center recently opened its doors at the Clay National Guard Center in Marietta, Ga., and provides the resources necessary for military intelligence linguists to hone their language skills.
“It’s a very perishable skill,” said Army Capt. Abe Gilman, budget officer in the Army National Guard’s Office of Intelligence Proponency. “You could learn a language and then six months later if you don’t practice every single day it’s going to diminish by 50 percent; and some statistics say 70 percent within six months.”
The new language center, which has been in the works for the past two years, came about as a cost-effective measure to ensure that linguists in the Guard retain their language skills.
“They get this awesome training at the Defense Language Institute and then go back to the Guard for one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year,” said Gilman, who was one of the chief planners for the new center. “They don’t get that [follow-up] training. They don’t have the location to go and conduct that training.”
The Georgia language center provides a centralized facility, where Soldiers can take part in major training events that feature total immersion in a specific language.
“What we do is we bring these folks into a very strict area and they … eat, sleep and speak the language all the time,” said Gilman. “It provides that area where they can just focus on that language.”
Being immersed in the culture is also part of the language road map. “You understand a language a little bit more when you understand the culture,” Gilman said. “They watch the news and not just interpret what is being said on the news in terms of language, but interpret the meaning of it and that’s really where you get into that higher level of education.”
The Guard has conducted language refresher training at temporary training sites around the country, including one in Washington state. “They do two [language] immersions a year in the summer time, but they’ve had to rent facilities out and that becomes a little bit more expensive.”
So, rather than dividing funding for training resources throughout the 30 states that have a need for language training, Gilman said it made more sense to centralize it into regional training centers.
“If you gave an equal share to all 30 states, each state is going to get like $10,000,” he said. “Really, that won’t provide anything for that state. It actually hinders their ability to perform language training.
“So, if you combine that money and focus it on a regional-type training facility, then more people will benefit. All the states will benefit from this program, rather than just one state benefitting.”
Georgia was the right place at the right time. “Georgia was in the middle of remodeling buildings, and it just made sense,” said Gilman. “It didn’t take a lot of money to make that building what it is now. It wasn’t a build up from scratch, so it made sense to get that one started and up and running.”
The Georgia center joins another facility already situated in Utah.
“They have a very robust language lab,” said Gilman. “They do a lot of training out of Utah, and they have for years. We’re really trying to emulate that type of model, that type of example.”
The center in Utah, which is part of the 640th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), also focuses on a variety of military intelligence courses and programs, but the Georgia center is focused entirely on language skills.
While the language classes taught in the Georgia center are primarily for linguists in military intelligence units, Gilman said they may expand to non-linguist or non-intelligence personnel and possibly include a tie-in to the Guard’s State Partnership Program.
“Georgia just happens to partnered with [the former Soviet republic of] Georgia,” said Gilman. “So they are going to offer the languages of Georgia in their institute. And that’s not just for language-coded billets. That’s for whoever they have that needs to go [through that training] as part of the partnership with that country.”
Currently, the languages that are offered at the Georgia center include French, Dari, Farsi and Arabic, said Gilman. All the instructors will be certified by the DLI.
The center is not, however, a substitute for attending DLI.
“DLI is the proponent for initial acquisition,” said Gilman. “So, when a Soldier comes on board either they go to basic training and then [Advanced Individual Training and then] DLI. They have to complete that initial acquisition training. Then they go back out to their home-station units, and they will do refresher training, sustainment training at one of our regional training institutes like Georgia.”
It is another training resource for Soldiers.
“This is an example of taking just a little bit of money and making a lot out of it,” said Gilman. “It’s a beautiful program for the Guard, and there a lot of active duty bases down there that can also benefit from the language training we’re going to put on.”