JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – The Washington National Guard routinely trains and prepares for all sorts of disasters. Guard members get Red Card-certified for fires, helicopter pilots recertify with Department of Natural Resources annually to drop water on fires. The Guard prepares for the potential Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. Meantime, one unit finds different ways to train every day for a potential call up to assist local first responders.
The 341st Military Intelligence Battalion, a linguist unit, has continued to focus many training events on language skills proficiency. They believe this will help them in the event of a large-scale call-up of the Washington National Guard.
"Our members have proven they can fight fires and fill sand bags; they are soldiers. They train for the physical mobilization," said Lt. Col. Teresa Wenner, commander, 341st Military Intelligence Battalion. "However, they also possess language skills that could become critical during state activation."
Wenner's analysis isn't far from the truth. In the past five fire activations, first responders have discovered they are working in locations with multiple language barriers, including parts of Washington that are primarily Spanish speaking.
"King County, alone, has 93 different languages being spoken daily; that creates an issue because what if you need to communicate for services and don't speak that same language?" Wenner said. "Our goal is to work directly with the state's Emergency Management Division to close those language gaps."
The 341st annual training plan includes maintaining and increasing language proficiency, which is done through a state-of-the-art language lab, and sending more Guard members on overseas deployments for training events to immerse themselves in the languages they speak.
"Currently, linguists in the 341st are proficient in over 25 different languages, and more than 90 percent of those linguists are maintaining their language at a high level," Wenner said.
Under the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap (DLTR) and Proficiency Enhancement Program (PEP), the goal is for Defense Language Institute graduates to be at 2/2/1+ meaning their comprehensive listening proficiency in their target language at Level 2, reading is at a Level 2 and speaking at 1+.
"If you are a current Guardsman, we encourage you to take a Defense Language Proficiency Test to see if you could be a qualified linguist," Wenner said. "Certain languages come with additional incentive pay, meaning some Guardsmen are making $400 more a month for speaking a foreign language."
For individuals in the Guard who don't speak a foreign language, the unit encourages them to take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery. This assessment tests an individual's potential for learning a foreign language.
"We have languages that allow our members to travel around the world and work right here at home," said Wenner. "Japanese linguists go to Japan. Thai linguists work in Thailand. They are not just used for war zones, but also to strengthen our partnerships in the INDO-PACOM region."