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Intelligence support to homeland security (HLS): languages and cultural awareness.

The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) has forced many of the United States' "multi-agencies" to find immediate and cost-effective training solutions to instruct their employees in a wide variety of languages and associated nonverbal communicative gestures as well as fostering an awareness of the cultures associated with these languages. For purposes of this article, "multi-agencies" are non-Department of Defense (DOD) agencies that include the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), police departments, and agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Instituting multiple training sites throughout the U.S. is not a likely or cost-effective solution. The White Paper from the 2004 National Language Conference and the DOD Language Transformation Roadmap propose a national vision that will become a baseline for change in the national foreign language education policy network. Multi-agencies, state and city employees, and first responders have recognized that foreign language training is invaluable to fighting the GWOT.


The U.S. has large populations of immigrants and other native speakers who speak a multitude of languages that fall outside of the traditional Eurocentric language set of Spanish, German, French, and Latin that are still traditionally taught in the high school foreign language curriculum. These include but are not limited to Arabic, Farsi, Pushtu, Dari, Azerbaijani, Punjabi, Sindhi, Siarki, Urdu, Kurdish, Baluchi, Turkish, and Bahasa Indonesia. All of these languages have various forms of dialects and some are unwritten. An Arabic speaker will speak a different dialect depending on his or her country (and perhaps region or province as well). People in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and the Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula may not understand each other's spoken languages, but will generally understand the written forms.

The DOD attempts to fill personnel gaps for language speakers and translators/interpreters by sending military personnel to DOD language schools such as the Defense Language Institute (DLI), by hiring contractors, or by recruiting the desired language speakers from immigrant and native speaker populations whose loyalty and knowledge of military jargon and terms are often significantly--even dangerously--limited. For many non-DOD agencies, these options may not be available or cost effective. Accurate, effective and immediate communication is vital to the HLS mission, otherwise valuable intelligence may be lost. Agencies such as the Border Patrol, DEA, and local police forces have a daunting task of interviewing, documenting, searching, and detaining illegal border crossers, immigrants, and visitors as well as translating the verbal and written communications. Completing these tasks with foreign language qualified personnel will require long-term and expensive solutions. A long-term educational commitment is required starting in either the elementary or junior high school levels. These skills can be further polished by cultural immersion which emphasizes foreign travel or by instituting realistic training environments within U.S. borders. Implementing language and cultural programs which will meet either federal or state educational guidelines and standards will drive up education costs.

Innovative Civilian Pilot Language Programs

The present and future integration of a foreign language curriculum to confront GWOT challenges will require years to accomplish. Teachers must be trained, tested, and certified. Books and teaching materials must be developed and approved. These are tedious tasks which cannot be completed overnight. Historically, budget constraints in the public educational system coupled with the lack of emphasis on teaching foreign languages in the U.S. culture have helped to rob the nation of a very valuable tool in fighting the war on terrorism. The lesson learned from teaching the traditional languages of Spanish, French, and German is that the country is hampered both by the current traditional U.S. school curriculum where foreign language instruction has all but disappeared in the past ten years from middle schools and the lack of qualified and certified teachers.

What better time than now for the U.S. educational system to invest in nontraditional language training beginning in the elementary grade levels and continuing through high school. There are already initiatives throughout the U.S. by Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and committees of parents, volunteers, and school administrators to fill the language gaps. Creative examples of pilot language programs exist in Virginia and Arizona.

Ten Virginia PTAs have set up before and after-school programs in the Arlington County area to nurture students at the elementary level. Funding has come from the PTAs and parents. The recognized benefits of early foreign language training are better accents, better recall, and the reading, vocabulary, and spelling skills which transfer to other academics such as English and additional languages. The goal is to continue language training through middle school and up to the high school level. The present U.S. standard is for the introduction of foreign languages into the curriculum at the high school level. Virginia was able to push this innovation based upon parent interest and cultural diversity.

Two years ago at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, a teacher for the Colonel Johnston Elementary School began the Huachuca Foreign Language Academy in response to a recognized need for foreign language instruction at the middle school and high school levels. In the first year, on a shoestring budget, she organized beginning level Arabic and Spanish classes. Like the volunteers and educators in Virginia, she took advantage of the rich cultural diversity in the local area. Twenty students ages 12 to 16 attended the 8-week courses daily for 4 hours. Professionally trained native speaker instructors who used content based and interactive instructional methodologies taught these courses. The students were able to read, write, and speak at a basic level upon completion of the course.

A proposal to continue the program at Fort Huachuca and at several satellite locations was presented to the Arizona congress, DOD senior level offices, and local and state education department, resulting in accolades for the initiative, but not the required resources to continue the program. This critical initiative is one of many throughout the U.S. educational system that will lessen our current foreign language crisis and provide a critical pipeline of linguists for DOD, HLS, and other government agencies, if those who control the resources will support it.

Multi-Agencies Look to Military Skills Programs for Help

Recently, the regional office of the Arizona Border Patrol and members of DEA turned to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca (USAIC&FH) to help fill the gap in the availability of language training and sustainment. The Fort Huachuca Military Intelligence Foreign Language Training Center (MIFLTC) is collaborating with DLI to design, develop, and implement a two week Spanish acquisition course for ten local DEA agents. The DEA regional office has approved this initiative and will resource it. The purpose of the instruction is to enable the agents to conduct basic interviews and fill out related paperwork. Once the course is operational, the FBI, CBP, and other agencies will also participate.

While long being home to all levels and types of intelligence training, USAIC&FH has also become the DOD lead for cultural awareness training. The Intelligence Center's cultural awareness training can be found in its virtual university, the University of Military Intelligence (UMI). This online university meets the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) mandate for the center to provide cost effective, life-long learning for all intelligence soldiers through distributive learning.


The U.S. military and civilian agencies involved in the Homeland Security mission have recognized that foreign language training and the resultant reading, listening, and speaking proficiencies are additional warfighting skills that must be integrated into operational and contingency planning. There is a common consensus that there is a language and cultural awareness gap. Responsible leaders and agencies must establish a baseline of foreign language and cultural awareness training for our soldiers and first responders to effectively prosecute their assigned missions and, most importantly, protect the homeland from future intrusions resulting in disastrous consequences.

Acknowledgment: I wish to thank Mr. Pete Shaver for his contributions to this article.

Colonel Stephanie Hap is currently the Deputy, Intelligence Training Support to Homeland Security, Futures, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. She received her commission through a direct appointment in the U.S. Army During her 29 years of commissioned service, COL Hap has held a number of staff intelligence assignments including: Chief of Investigations, Director of Security and Intelligence, B Battery, Headquarters Command at Fort Bliss, Texas; Operations Officer, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Lewis, Washington; Assistant U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Systems Manager for Ground Sensors, USAIC&FH; Plans and Operations Officer, U.S. Army Reserve Alaska, at Fort Richardson, Alaska," Chief, Intelligence Division, U.S. Army Reserve Japan/9th Theater Army Area Command (TAACOM), at Camp Zama, Japan; Chief, Homeland Security Intelligence Cell, at the U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center Edwards Air Force Base, California. She is a graduate of the Women Officers' Orientation Course (WOOC), the Military Intelligence Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Command and General Staff Officer Course, the Civil Affairs Officer-Advanced Course, and the U.S. Air Force War College. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and certification in Secondary Education from the California Polytechnic State University. Readers may contact her via E-mail at
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Title Annotation:Language Action
Author:Hap, Stephanie E.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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