Jewish World Review May 14, 2003 / 12 Iyar, 5763
They won the battle, but lost the morale
NEAR THE SYRIAN BORDER, Iraq
Specialist Aaron Molina is getting out of the Army to learn to be a chef.
This represents a considerable loss for the Army, since it has invested
about a million bucks in the 26-year-old Cleveland native.
Molina is a Russian linguist and a signals intelligence expert for the 66th
Military Intelligence Company, which is part of the 3rd Armored Cavalry
Regiment. He has a degree in computer science from Ohio State University.
Few in the military have received more, or more expensive, training than
Molina and other linguists. After basic training, there is a year or more of
language instruction at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.
The instruction is all by native speakers. The method is total immersion. At
no university in the United States is there better instruction.
Then there is training in their particular black art, conducted chiefly at
Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas.
And before the training begins, candidates must pass a thorough background
check for the high security clearances Army linguists must have. This takes
months and costs tens of thousands of dollars.
Molina likes his job and is very good at it. But he's getting out because,
as a junior enlisted man, he spends more time sweeping the motor pool than
he does doing his job.
If Molina's case were isolated, there would be no point to this column. But
his case is more or less typical. The first-term retention rate among
linguists is distressingly low. And it is low because these valuable assets
are not being treated with the dignity they deserve.
It's understandable why Molina and the German and Spanish linguists in his
unit are driving trucks and standing guard here, since their skills are not
relevant in Iraq. The treatment of Sgt. Paul Olsen's wife, Kelly is less so.
Kelly is an Arab linguist, formerly part of the 66th MI Company. Paul and
Kelly had a baby, Vivian, 11 months ago. Their families live far from the
3rd ACR's base of Fort Carson, Colo., so there was no relative close enough
to care for Vivian if both were deployed. Kelly requested permission to
remain at Fort Carson when the 3rd ACR deployed, so that she could take care
of Vivian. Permission was denied. So Kelly applied for, and received, a
humanitarian discharge. So instead of having Kelly at Fort Carson, where she
could still perform valuable work, the Army is now another million bucks
The linguist retention problem could easily and inexpensively be ameliorated
if a little common sense were applied. The Army, properly, offers large
bonuses to young people who have the aptitude to become linguists. But it
doesn't pay enough attention to the people it already has attracted, and is
now turning off.
The Army can't offer Molina a bonus large enough to get him to re-enlist, as
long as he thinks he'll still be treated like dirt. But no bonus would be
required if he were treated with the respect he thinks he deserves.
Linguists need to enter the military as privates. They are, after all,
soldiers, and there are certain skills to be acquired. The Army is not a
suitable profession for lateral entry. But if linguists re-enlist, they
should be made warrant officers. This would provide them with greater
status, and exempt them from scut details.
Moreover, when the Army has new language needs to fill, it ought to look
more toward teaching linguists it already has additional languages than to
recruiting new people off the street. If a language like Russian has become
less important, send someone like Molina back to Monterey to learn Arabic or
Dari or Pashtu. He's already been through basic, got his security clearance
and learned the intricacies of his secret craft. I've never met a former DLI
student who didn't love the place. The prospect of going back there would in
itself be a powerful incentive to re-enlist.
And a linguist who speaks two
languages can be twice as valuable as one who speaks only one.
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a
deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan
administration. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Jack Kelly