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ARLINGTON, Va. — Pentagon officials are planning to more than quadruple the cap in foreign language proficiency pay, according to the Pentagon’s chief of personnel policy.

The monthly stipend will go from a maximum of $300 per month for both officers and enlisted servicemembers skilled in high-demand languages to a maximum of $1,000 per month, said Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu.

“I don’t want to start rumors — we’re not going to offer it to everybody,” said Chu. “It will be in areas of need against standards that have yet to be proscribed.”

The move is part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the Pentagon’s language capabilities. The “Language Transformation Roadmap,” includes more than doubling the DOD’s language training budget and perhaps that all new officers must possess some skill in a second language.

Chu broke his road map down into four major highways:

Better foundation. Field leaders are saying there is increasing need more people with ability in the what officials are calling “investment languages,” such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Pashtu.On-demand Linguists. The Pentagon wants to be able to “respond to urgent demands quickly, demands we cannot possibility foresee,” said Chu.Higher proficiency. Officials want a bigger cadre of more fluent linguists. Most of the military’s linguists are only able to translate simple documents and conversations. “What we recognized with the war on terror,” said Chu, “is that for at least some of our linguists, that’s not good enough.”Career management. Chu said the services have to do a better job of improving career progression for both enlisted linguists and foreign area officers. With second languages usually a very perishable skill, leaders have long struggled with balancing language upkeep with more traditional soldiering.This year, the Pentagon increased the Defense Language Institute’s budget from $103 million to $153 million.

That money is focused on hiring new faculty at the Monterey, Calif., school as well increasing the number of students trained there each year, said Gail McGinn, who heads of the Pentagon’s language efforts.

Officials also hope to expand on an Army experiment to recruit “heritage speakers” into the military. Dubbed the “Translator Aide Program,” the Army has so far brought in 200 U.S. immigrants — mostly Iraqis — into the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve under an agreement for immediate mobilization into the Middle East. To date, 77 have made it through the initial training and deployed.

Perhaps the most controversial of the proposed changes is a new standard for officers requiring some level of proficiency in a high-demand investment language.

“We haven’t decided to do it quite yet, although you’d have to be pretty thick-headed not to see this as the likely outcome. The question is ‘how?’” said Chu.

To answer that question, the individual services have been tasked with working up specific proposals. But Chu already has some ideas of his own.

“One easy way is to say to our military academies and ROTC programs is that a condition of commissioning will be X,” said Chu. “We’re not necessarily proposing that every officer should be bilingual. This is not Canada, where that is a requirement in the armed forces. But we are trying to raise the starting point.”


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