This episode is for the SOF nerds who understand the importance of foreign language capability in special operations.
It is also for those who want to know a little more about the language and culture programs that make, train, and sustain Army SOF.
Language, regional expertise, and cross-cultural competency (LREC) don’t get the same attention as sniper teams in ghillie suits or a bunch of operators touching down on the roof of a house off of a little bird.
But have no doubt, as Special Forces officer Tim Ball says in the episode, it is language ability (and the cultural-competency that comes with it) that sets Army special operations forces (ARSOF) apart from its peers in the other services (Navy SEALS, Marine Raiders, etc).
The episode is a deep-dive on ARSOF language training, to include:
- Language standards have increased over time (From 0+ -to 1+ on the Oral Proficiency Interview as a graduation requirement)
- The numerous language programs inside of SOF beyond initial acquisition, including advanced unit training, foreign immersion, operational unit exchanges, and on-demand computer-based online training (with live instructors)
- The use of virtual reality to enhance language ability and cross-cultural competency
I really appreciated some of the comments that Tim made. He highlights the fact that ARSOF traditionally works with a partner force, and that parternship inherently involves lots of face-to-face communication.
The ultimate aim of language training is to prepare the SOF soldier to instruct and communicate in the target language – to stand up in front of a tough, dedicated fighting force, and communicate to them what it is they need to do.
Tim admits this is hard – not everyone achieves that level of language fluency.
But some do. And in just about every SOF unit, there is “that one” who really gets the language and becomes the de facto communicator on the team.
At the very least, the fact that every SF/CA/PO soldier goes through significant language training provides them with the tools they need to exchange basic expressions and pleasantries. Like it or not, there is an “ugly American” stereotype that precedes us everywhere we go. If you can blast through that by demonstrating basic understanding of the language, it goes a long way.
Related, Tim also wrote a great article on War on the Rocks discussing the role of language in special operations – and the fact that we’ve gotten better.
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