Posted by: sbilingual | December 30, 2011

U.S. military must track foreign-language skills

The Marine Corps and Army do a poor job tracking how much language and cultural training troops have received, leaving commanders in the dark when it comes time to assign troops with these skills, according to a congressional watchdog agency.

The two services also spend millions during pre-deployment training to teach troops to speak foreign languages, but they lack plans to sustain these skills and use them for ongoing operations, the Government Accountability Office found.

Without programs to ensure these skills don’t lapse, the “Army and Marine Corps may not fully maximize the return on investment already made for pre-deployment language training for current operations,” GAO analysts wrote.

GAO detailed its findings and recommendations in a 46-page report to the Senate and House armed services committees that was recently released to the public.

The agency said the Corps is missing out by letting the knowledge, training and experiences of Marines fall by the wayside. The independent agency asked the Corps and the Secretary of the Navy to: require Marines who complete “significant’ language training to take the formal Defense Language Proficiency Test; better identify Marines who require follow-on advanced language training; and improve documentation of Marines’ language and cultural training.

GAO also recommended establishment of a formal sustainment training program “to capitalize on the investments they have already made to provide pre-deployment language training.”

Most Marines get just enough tactical-level language training for basic, mission-specific communication skills, the Marine Corps told the GAO. These cultural classes in recent years are geared toward preparing troops for deployment to Afghanistan.

“The Marine Corps is not planning to sustain the Afghan language skills of Marines that were acquired through pre-deployment training with a formal training program,” the agency wrote in its audit report, noting that the service contends that high turnover of personnel between deployments makes a broader training program “cost prohibitive.”

The Corps has spent about $1.4 million for Afghan language training, from 2009 through August 2011, the GAO reported. The Army has spent about $12.3 million since 2009.

For Marines, language skills can net bonuses worth up to $12,000, according to Marine administrative message 663/11, released Nov. 10.

Marine officials told the agency that while the service is looking at creating a proficiency score, it will be on a lower scale than what Defense Language Proficiency Tests provide.

But, GAO investigators wrote, “without this information, we believe that DoD may be missing an opportunity to gain greater visibility of the language skills of its forces and therefore effectively leverage this capability when making individual assignments and assessing future operational needs.

“Given the considerable investments that the Marine Corps is making to provide some Marines with extensive language training prior to deploying to Afghanistan, we continue to believe it is prudent for the Marine Corps to take a similar approach to testing,” investigators wrote.

Marine officials told the agency the service plans to expand its Marine Corps Training Information Management System to better track training. But the GAO noted that the service hasn’t decided whether that database would detail a Marine’s level of expertise to complete specific cultural and language pre-deployment training tasks.

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