STUTTGART, Germany — After two years of operating in makeshift classrooms and borrowed space, Defense Language Institute teachers and students at U.S. European Command headquarters are homeless no more.
On Thursday, the Defense Language Institute formally opened a language center at EUCOM’s Patch Barracks.
“We’ve conducted training every which way you can imagine,” said Daniel Regelbrugge, DLI’s program coordinator in Europe.
Now, instead of scrounging space at the chapel and jumping from building to building, teachers are working out of classrooms complete with new high tech gear, including smartboards that enable video conferencing.
For Russian teacher Irina Mikhailova that means being able to work with students at military installations around Europe while instructing a class in Stuttgart.
“It’s made a big difference and I’m surprised how easy it is,” she said.
Having permanent space “adds stability to a course,” added Laurent Paget, a DLI French teacher in Stuttgart.
The opening of the foreign language center has been the culmination of two years of work for Regelbrugge, who arrived in Stuttgart in 2010 as part of a DLI effort to establish its first presence in Europe. In the beginning, the focus was on identifying the language needs of EUCOM and Africa Command. The language demands in Stuttgart are wide-ranging: French, Russian, Arabic, Pashto, Dari and Swahili are some of the more popular courses. The institute also uses mobile training teams to rotate instructors to bases across Europe.
In two years, DLI has trained 8,500 DOD personnel in Europe, with much of the focus on providing Pashto and Dari instruction to soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, Regelbrugge said.
DLI’s arrival in Europe comes as the military, after more than a decade at war, is still struggling to establish an effective method for building cultural and language expertise among deploying troops. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report aserted that despite investing about $266 million between 2005 and 2011 in language and culture programs, DOD was still struggling to establish a clear strategy for language learning.
“In the absence of an integrated approach, GAO found that DOD has not approached its language and culture training efforts in an efficient manner,” the report stated. “In particular, DOD and the military services have not yet reached agreement on the common language and cultural skills that general purpose forces need to acquire. Without such an agreement, each military service has developed an individualized approach for language and culture training that varies in the amount, depth, and breadth of training.”
DLI in Europe has two primary focuses: meeting the language needs of EUCOM and AFRICOM and providing basic language and cultural instruction to forces deploying to Afghanistan.
“We’re trying to build this up to help as many people as we can,” Regelbrugge said.
The Monterrey, Calif.-based DLI is regarded as the military’s premiere foreign language program and dates back to 1941. However, the institute’s long history in foreign language education begs the question: Why did it take more than 70 years to reach Europe?
“I don’t know, but we’re here now,” Regelbrugge said.
In early 2013, DLI is looking to add instructors in Vicenza, Italy, home to U.S. Army Africa. A language coordinator also has been dispatched to Grafenwoehr. But Stuttgart, host to AFRIOCM, EUCOM and the special operations commands that support those combatant commands, has evolved into something of a hub for foreign language instruction.
“In the last two years people all over Europe have been coming to Stuttgart,” Regelbrugge said.