Staff Sgt. Chae An, left, and Chief Warrant Officer Randy Rogers compete in the "impromptu" portion of the military's Worldwide Language Competition.

Staff Sgt. Chae An, left, and Chief Warrant Officer Randy Rogers compete in the "impromptu" portion of the military's Worldwide Language Competition. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A group of South Korea-based soldiers is celebrating a top showing in the military’s annual language competition, held each May at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.

Four soldiers from the 524th Military Intelligence Battalion beat out 26 other military teams to win first place in the Korean language portion of the Worldwide Language Competition and took third place overall, behind teams from Fort Gordon, Ga., and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in Germany.

“The key to (our) victory was not just doing really well in a few events — it was consistently doing well in all of the events,” said Chief Warrant Officer Randall Rogers, a team member along with Staff Sgt. Daniel Pittman, Chief Warrant Officer Yongsang Yi and Staff Sgt. Chae An.

Teams competed in six different languages: Russian, Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Korean. Team members must be military linguists or work in a foreign language job; the competition is split into five events testing impromptu and prepared language skills.

The final event in each category, Rogers said, drew on the skills required of the military’s two language-dependent specialties: interrogator and voice intercept officer.

The Worldwide Language Competition started out with a slightly cooler name: the Worldwide Language Olympics. But, participants said, the International Olympic Organizing Committee stepped in and said the event had to drop the word “Olympics,” so the organizers complied.

But the event, competitors said, remains much more than a “competition.”

“In many respects, the event is the military’s version of a high school class reunion,” said Rogers. “Because people who have studied at the Defense Language Institute come back for it and see people with whom they studied — sometimes it’s the first time seeing each other in several years.”

And as part of the gathering, competitors were encouraged to visit the DLI and share some stories with current students, “mentoring and imparting some wisdom from the field,” Rogers said.

At their home station, much of the 524th’s time is spent working with soldiers assigned to the peninsula.

The agents perform counter-intelligence functions, work closely with Korean police and other contacts to keep track of upcoming demonstrations and file intelligence reports informing U.S. military commanders of threats.

The units also hold security classes — called Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army — to help soldiers spot possible spies or subversives targeting U.S. soldiers and installations.

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