300th Military Intelligence Brigade

Hosts Annual Language Conference

 

Written by Shad West, Ogden Standard-Examiner

Reprinted by permission

Published March 19, 2006

 

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300th Military Intelligence Brigade Language Conference attendees hear form a variety of military and civilian officials Mar. 18 on important issues affecting linguists in the Department of Defense.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

300th Military Intelligence Brigade Language Conference

attendees hear from a variety of military and civilian officials Mar. 18

on important issues affecting linguists in the Department of Defense.

DRAPER, Utah Building a strong foundation in language and cultural expertise will help win the global war on terror.

That was the underlying theme of the two-day language conference hosted by the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade, headquartered in Draper.

"In 10 years, I have not seen the investment of time, money and rewards needed for our linguists," Department of Defense language adviser Glenn Nordin told a packed auditorium. "Somebody has to make a conscious effort in these investments. If not, these skills will diminish."

The Department of Defense has 17,000 members who know a second language as an additional skill; however, he said, there needs to be a transformation in the way the military uses this resource.

Nordin, who works for the undersecretary of defense, said the military needs to understand not just the languages used in the Middle East, but also the cultures of the people with whom the military is working.

DoD is stepping up its efforts and recently released a defense language transformation road map on which the military builds a strong foundation in fundamental language and cultural expertise.

Dr. Ray Clifford, Brigham Young University, presents his perspective on the future of language as it affects the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade and other DoD components.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Dr. Ray Clifford, Brigham Young University, presents his

perspective on the future of language as it affects the

300th Military Intelligence Brigade and other DoD components.

He said Guardsmen from Utah serving in military intelligence units are a perfect example of how immersion into a language and culture can build acceptance and trust.

"Some of the skills these soldiers bring to the table is the combination of their missionary skills learned while serving the LDS Church and a basic understanding of a foreign language," Nordin said.

Lt. Col. Steve Thorsted, commander of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion, agreed, saying that is how the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade got its start.

"Many years ago, the Army recognized that Utah is unique," Thorsted said, referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' two-year missions for many young adults.

"They saw we had these young men who were unique because they go out and come back with something that can't be taught in a school. That is immersion into a culture and language," he said.

The missionaries, Thorsted said, "come back with a proficiency that can't be matched. When we compare our language skills to those of other active-duty components, we are far superior."

Staff Sgt. James Ryan, Charlie Company, 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion, left, converses with one of many vendors with products or services on display at the Language Conference Mar. 18.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Staff Sgt. James Ryan, Charlie Company, 142nd Military

Intelligence Battalion, left, converses with one of many vendors  with products or services on display at the Language Conference Mar. 18.

For more than four decades, the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade has established itself as the nation's premier military linguist organization. The brigade has units in National Guard units in California, Washington, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and Louisiana, but it is the linguists from Utah who have been most instrumental in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"What's unique here is the fact that we are citizen soldiers," Thorsted said. "The Guard has, in its mission, stepped up. Ninety-five percent of our unit has engaged in combat."

A majority of the 142nd returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq in 2004.

Fifty soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing foreign language expertise for active-duty units in the theater. Many Utah guardsmen are fluent in Arabic and Persian, among the many languages spoken in Iraq.