A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the picture on the ground in Iraq is quickly making military personnel who can translate Arabic priceless.
This morning's Christian Science Monitor reports that the Army is preparing to offer a staggering $150,000 retention bonus to service members who are proficient in Arabic, "in reflection of how critical it has become for the US military to retain native language and cultural know-how in its ranks." Indeed, as the war in Iraq goes on, and the military subsequently finds fewer and fewer people anxious for extended stays in the desert, retaining trained troops is becoming a critical centerpiece of many commanders' strategies. The supply of Arabic speakers just isn't keeping up with the demand created by ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The military's conventional language training program, the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., could not churn out enough American soldiers proficient in Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashtu, and Farsi, and the military quickly turned to private contractors to fill the gap," reporter Gordon Lubold writes. "Numerous programs have sprouted up, including one at Fort Lewis, Wash., where soldiers are given a 10-month immersion program in language and culture."
The Army is taking almost every step imaginable - from six-figure bonuses to civilian interpreters in the warzone to recruitment campaigns targeting Arab-American communities - to beef up its language capability. Every step, that is, except one. Army officials have yet to tell Congress to dump the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law that has resulted in the dismissal of more than 5 dozen Arabic speakers who were otherwise qualified and ready to serve.
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