As the US turns its attention to the Pacific, the Services language and cultural centers are adjusting programs to reflect changing priorities. MS&T’s Chuck Weirauch writes.

There seems to be much debate lately as to when or even if the US foreign policy shift to the Asia-Pacific region, dubbed the "Asia-Pacific Pivot" as outlined by President Obama and the Pentagon, will take place. Regardless, the DoD and US services clearly recognize the need for improved language and cultural training for personnel deployed to that region. For example, some leaders of the primary service centers for language and cultural training are reporting that they have been receiving increasing numbers of requirements for enhanced and expanded curricula and training tools focused on Asian-Pacific languages and cultures.

Military budget reductions, the crisis in the Ukraine, increasing renewed turmoil in Iraq and US political factors reportedly could reduce and/ or delay US efforts towards the Asia-Pacific shift. However, with China and other countries increasing their influence in the region, there certainly is a need for the US to re-assure its allies, as President Obama has recently done, about the certainty of more of the country's military presence in the region.

But perhaps US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell put it best when he recently spoke with Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) Director Robert Kagan. "The pivot to Asia and the Pacific will not be completed in a few years, but will require a sustained and different allocation of diplomatic and military resources," Campbell reportedly said.

Asia-Pacific Challenges

The Air Force Language and Culture Center (AFCLC) is the service's primary organization for the management and coordination of the service's language and cultural training activities. This ranges from courses offered through the Air Force Professional Military Education (PME) system to various levels of pre-deployment training programs. The AFCLC main page at offers links to many region and cultural resources provided by organizations such as Joint Knowledge Online (JKO), the US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency Fact Book, and many more. The AFCLC has worked closely with the Defense Language Institute (DLI) to incorporate familiarization training during professional military education as well as in preparation for deployment.

According to Lt. Col. Julie Solberg, acting director of AFCLC, the service is gearing up to support more language and cultural training for personnel planned for deployment in the Asia-Pacific region.

"As the Air Force turns its attention toward the Pacific region, Air Staff program guidance will transform to reflect this priority shift," Solberg said. "We expect priorities to be updated in the annual Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) selection guidance and a re-prioritization of languages in the AF Strategic Language List (SLL). Updated Air Staff guidance will directly impact the types of skills selected into the program and the languages chosen for cross-training for those participants who have already achieved a high level of fluency in their original selected language. By increasing our inventory of Chinese, Tagalog, Indonesian, and other foreign languages of the Pacific region, the AFCLC will be better positioned to offer qualified language-enabled Airmen to meet mission demands."

The difference between a shift from Middle Eastern languages and cultures to those of the Asia-Pacific region is more than just geopolitical differences, Solberg said. That is because the challenges of the Pacific are different than those faced in recent Middle Eastern conflicts, with the US interest in the Pacific region more strategic in nature and more focused on working toward building partnerships and increasing global cooperation, she explained.

"This requires a deeper understanding of many unfamiliar and unique Asian cultures," Solberg pointed out. "Additionally, many of the Pacific region languages are varied and diverse, while the capacity of these regional languages within the US forces is rather modest. Although Chinese Mandarin, Cantonese and Tagalog are all considered prevalent in the Forces and the AF has deemed the capacity to be sufficient to meet the mission, it is unclear if this USAF inventory of Asian speakers is prepared to engage at the level necessary to improve our long-term interest in the Asian geo-political environment."

Field Guides

According to Mary Newbern, director of the AFCLC's Expeditionary Skills Training, program, in fiscal year 2012 the Center started development of a series of Asian-Pacific Expeditionary Culture Field Guides (ECFGs) for US Pacific Air Force's top six priority countries and has completed two of the six -- those for the Philippines and South Korea. The ECFGs have become the primary focus of the Center. Plans are underway to develop additional guides for Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and India within the next year or so, she said.

The ECFGs are portable, pocket-sized booklets that are designed to complement cultural awareness pre-deployment training for the Air Force, which is delivered online via the Advanced Distributed Learning Service (ADLS), Newbern explained. The first two ECFGs developed at the Center were for US forces deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. In early CY2011, AFCLC partnered with USAFRICOM’s air component, AFAFRICA, to contract for the development of a series of ECFGs for US forces deploying into priority countries on the African continent Since then, a total of 24 ECFGs have been developed for AFAFRICA. Next up, Newbern noted, is an ECFG for Columbia, the country that is a top priority for US SOUTHCOM.

The AFCLC is planning to field an application for delivering ECFGs on mobile devices within the next year. The concept would allow the Center to make all or an exclusive selection of the ECFGs available to individual airmen or total units, depending on the need. An AFCLC team will be assigned to mobile app management.


The People's Republic of China's Liberation Army Navy participated in the Rim Of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the biennial international naval exercise hosted by the US Pacific Fleet, for the first time this year and US commanders and sailors employed new translation aids, etiquette guides and other cultural education tools to help them interact with Chinese crews.

Those language and culture aids were developed and provided by the Navy's Center for Language, Regional Expertise and Culture (CLREC) for the Third Fleet's Vice Chief of Naval Operations. The CLREC is the clearinghouse for all of the service’s cultural awareness and language training at both the career professional and pre-deployment levels.

"This was a good opportunity for language and cultural training for some of the officers who were involved, and a good news story for us," said CLREC Director Chris Wise.

But while the CLREC did see an "uptick" in training requests and requirements generated by RIMPAC, the Center did not notice a significant slack-off in calls for such support for other regions either, Wise reported

"The kind of requirements that we saw increase in the Pacific were for the Foreign Area Officers," Wise said. "There is more interest for continuing education, professional development in regard for their specific focus languages and cultural and regional interests over there. In concert with that; the training has been stepped up, as well as the educational opportunities."

Although Navy Asia-Pacific language and culture training requirements are up, they are still mainly focused on where the Navy has strategic forward basing, such as in Japan and Korea, Wise elaborated. The primary languages in both countries are "extremely challenging " for our officers and enlisted men and women, he added.

To help service personnel overcome these challenges, the CLREC and its program office, the Navy Language and Culture Office, have recently taken a two-pronged approach. One is to establish contracts with native Japanese firms and organizations to provide instruction for Navy squadrons based in that country, an effort that is expanding. Another is to expand language and cultural training for Navy personnel who are working with Japanese Foreign Area Officers assigned to duty in the US. Sometimes native Japanese instructors have gone on US carriers with deployments -- an international exchange even of itself, Wise added.

Another CLREC initiative begun this year was with the Naval Postgraduate School and Johns Hopkins University. The Strategic Studies Seminars Summer Program offered jointly by these institutions was opened up this year to the Navy, along with pilot Asian Strategic Studies Program in Washington, DC. In the cultural training arena, the CLREC staff has worked with the Joint Knowledge Online (JKO) organization to develop the Virtual Cultural Awareness Trainer (VCAT) for Southeast Asia and make it available to Navy personnel via JKO.

Positive Outlook

In spite of DoD budget cutbacks, Wise said that CLREC funding has not been significantly reduced. In fact, just recently his organization has been given approval to hire more personnel. This increasing support from the service will hopefully allow the Center to provide more individualized training support to the Fleet, he said.

"I think that in the Navy there is a good, solid buy-in for language and cultural training, and an attitude that it really does matter at some level if you do it right, Wise summed up."It can make liberty more fun and the mission go much more smoothly. I think that we are going to have the requisite staff to make sure that we have a regular communication with each of our individual customers so that no one is falling through the cracks."