Five Arabic language class graduates from the 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, will deploy to Kuwait in August to support U.S. Central Command operations by connecting with locals through language and culture.
The small Aug. 1 ceremony celebrated the initial class to graduate from a unique Language Regional Expertise and Culture course in Arabic under a program created by the JBLM Language and Culture Center in partnership with a Language Training Detachment from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. The graduates were 1st Lt. Geriti Sulaj, 1st Lt. Anne Danczyk, Spc. Tashi Tsering, Spc. Ilia Akaev and Spc. Jacob Byram.
“This is our first Arabic class done with cross-cultural (training) plus language,” said 5-3 FA Commander Lt. Col. Ian Bennett during the graduation ceremony. “To do Arabic for 10 weeks with some block leave is not easy. The importance of language is to establish a dialogue. We appreciated the opportunity and look forward to leveraging their expertise to do what we need to do.”
Bennett said the instruction will help his Soldiers truly understand the culture, since they will have the most contact with the target population.
“This will help expand everyone’s horizons and minds,” Bennett said. “The school really accommodated us and is superb.”
JBLM’s Language and Culture Center’s mission is to develop, present and support language and culture training for service members. The 10-week course was created to support deploying conventional forces whether on an operation or an exercise. This allowed the JBLM-LCC to provide a rapid response to 5-3 FA’s deployment in August to Kuwait.
Danczyk said it was an extremely challenging and rewarding class.
“The instructors were outstanding and very motivated,” Danczyk said. “They shared stories and cultural knowledge. They really taught us from the ground up. It’s a difficult but beautiful language. This will help us pick up special cues from locals and have a leg-up.”
She said that some of the “coolest” things she learned, aside from local key phrases, were details about traditional foods of the region.
“One of my favorite foods is Kunafa; it’s basically an Arab version of a Danish (dish) with lots of butter and cheese,” Danczyk said, with a smile.
Instructor Karimeh Rogers has been a contracted Arabic teacher at JBLM since 1991. She said the graduating class worked hard and took the course seriously.
“We had a lot of fun and they had a lot of intense studying,” Rogers said. “It all comes together with language, music and food.”
Rogers said the most challenging part was learning a lot in a short amount of time; but she said the five military students succeeded.
JBLM-LCC Arabic instructor Aqeel Qatrani said the class demonstrated traits important to its success.
“They were very enthusiastic and hard-working,” Qatrani said. “The most difficult part is learning the alphabet and most shy away from it, but they worked at it, were very determined and overcame it.”
When Akaev found out he was the honor graduate, he said it felt good to reach his goal.
“The whole time I did all of my homework and I had a goal to do the best I could … and it felt good getting that goal accomplished,” Akaev said.
Once they deploy, Akaev said it will “be interesting to see how well I learned once I go over there and start using those skills.”
Yvonne Pawelek, Director of JBLM Language and Culture Center, said the function of the program is to provide refresher and special language familiarization and culture training for military linguists and deploying units by using a “three-pillar approach” to language and culture. This approach was designed by 7th Inf. Div. when the division activated to support units operating in the Pacific as well as other parts of the world.
The three-pillar approach delineates the division’s Command Language Program into three trainee demographics: professional military linguists with intermediate to advanced linguistic abilities, language-enabled Soldiers with low-level conversational skills — like the five Aug. 1 graduates — and all other deploying Soldiers, who the division plans to provide Cultural Orientation and Language Training in the form of area studies briefings, Language Survival Kits, culture smart-cards, or a combination of the myriad products and services offered by DLIFLC and the JBLM-LCC.
Pieter DeVisser, DLIFLC liaison to JBLM, said that the goal of 7th Inf. Div. is to have 10 percent of the formation trained as language-enabled Soldiers.
“With the COLT program, the intention is to ensure that 100 percent of Soldiers deploying to a foreign country will have language and cultural information.” DeVisser said.
Pawelek said that the JBLM-LCC offers commanders the opportunity for every JBLM Soldier who deploys anywhere in the world, from the Middle East to Southwest Asia, to receive some form of language and cultural training.
The addition of cross-cultural training to the language curriculum is a unique feature of the JBLM-LCC program. “Cross-cultural training helps Soldiers no matter where they are in the world,” DeVisser said. “In culture-specific programs, you learn specific things such as not shaking with your left hand in certain cultures. The problem is you could drive five miles and it would be something else in a different town. If you were to ask five Americans how they celebrate Christmas, you would probably get five different answers. Memorizing culture-specific factoids isn’t necessarily helpful, because it overgeneralizes cultural complexities and intracultural nuances and doesn’t prepare Soldiers for experiences that fall outside of them.”
The focus on general-culture helps ready service members with transferable skills for all regions by focusing on cultural universals, such as how societies are structured around ideology, economy and family.
“Understanding these basic concepts provides the backdrop against which Soldiers can better understand what they experience overseas, regardless of the culture-specific information they memorized, which may or may not be accurate in a particular situation,” DeVisser said.
DeVisser also noted that this approach is an attempt to prepare Soldiers for culture shock in general.
“A lot of culture-specific training to date has focused too heavily on the “easy” differences – greetings, religions practices, foods, things like that,” he said. “Not enough time has been spent on the things Soldiers will really find hard to cope with that could lead to mission stoppage or failure.
DeVisser said this program is currently the only language program he knows of in the Army that is integrating this kind of cross-cultural training into the Program of Instruction.
The JBLM-LCC cross-cultural approach has been successful in a number of other LES classes supporting I Corps and 7th Inf. Div., as well — two Japanese classes, three Indonesian classes, and four Tagalog classes so far this fiscal year, with the potential for more languages and classes to be developed in the future.
“If the units request another language, then it’s added,” Pawelek said. “Our mission at the JBLM Language and Culture Center is to support commander’s predeployment training.”
For more information on the JBLM Foreign Language & Culture Center, call 253-966-3809.