2nd Radio Battalion wins Corps' language program award

28 Feb 2003 | Cpl. Kristin S. Gambrell

Marines with 2nd Radio Battalion recently received the Marine Corps Language Program of the Year Award.

The unit will now move on to compete against the top language programs from services within the Department of Defense for the Command Language Program of the Year Award. 

"This prestigious award singles out one unit within the entire DoD that has the best Command Language Program to maintain the proficiency of their cryptologic linguists," said Lt. Col. Ildefonso Pillot-Olive, the commanding officer for 2nd Radio Battalion. A cryptologic linguist is one who specializes in speaking, reading and translating a foreign language.

The Command Language Program of the Year Award is an annual competition conducted by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif.

In order to compete, program managers submit a 12-page essay to Headquarters Marine Corps detailing what their program entails.  Headquarters Marine Corps then reviews all the nominations and chooses one to forward to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.  The center then sends out a team to inspect the programs nominated by each service.

"The effective use of a variety of foreign language immersion courses is what made the Command Language Program for 2nd Radio Battalion stand out above the rest this year," said Master Sgt. William R. Tobin, deputy foreign language officer at Headquarters Marine Corps.

"2nd Radio Battalion maintains a superior program by focusing on the end result," Pillot-Olive said.  "That end result is to have superior linguists manning our tactical collection positions."

The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center reviews all aspects of the different programs submitted.

"The main emphasis that Headquarters Marine Corps looks for in an effective Command Language Program is the foreign language proficiency of the linguists themselves and the programs offered to maintain and improve their proficiency," said Tobin.

One way the unit has improved the Marines' language skills proficiency is by implementing new immersion courses, said Sgt. Terra H. Wathen, Command Language Program Manager for 2nd Radio Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force.  She said the courses offer the battalion a good chance of winning this year. They are designed to refresh and re-enforce the skills Marines learn at school.

The battalion uses a multi-faceted approach to reinforce the Marines' language skills, said Pillot-Olive.

Each linguist is required to participate in a minimum of six hours per week in the language laboratory studying his or her target language.  Pillot-Olive said the program manager and specialists closely monitor the laboratory time. 

The command schedules training every two weeks throughout the year to give the major language groups -- Russian, Spanish and Modern Arabic -- the opportunity to learn from each other without the normal distractions associated with ongoing operations, said Pillot-Olive.

For one of the newly implemented courses, each quarter the command rents a house on Topsail Island where 10 students stay with two native instructors for one week.  Throughout the week they study, cook, shop for groceries, watch movies and hold group discussions all in the target language.  This is done for each language in the unit.

"This technique has resulted in tremendous increases in the standard Defense Language Proficiency Test that the battalion uses as a measure of a linguist's language proficiency," Pillot-Olive said.

Improving the Marines language proficiency can bring the program many benefits.

"The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center awards the Command Language Program of the Year with $5,000 worth of foreign language training and a rotating trophy that resides with the winning command for one year," said Joseph R.F. Betty, Field Support and Special Programs, School for Continuing Education, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.

In addition, the program manager is recognized in front of his or her peers at the annual Command Language Program Seminar with a plaque and Coin of Excellence from the command sergeant major of Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, said Betty.

"With the current world situation, it is imperative the Marine Corps has robust knowledge of languages around the world to provide real intelligence support," Wathen said.  "2nd Radio Battalion has made an excellent effort in helping linguists to have a firm grasp on their respective languages.  I feel this is why we will win the (overall) competition this year.

"Wish us luck! You can say it in Russian, Spanish or Arabic - Zhelayu vam udachi!  Buena suerte!  Hadthan sa'eedan!" Wathen added.