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CHIPS Articles: Forging Ahead: The Tireless Pursuit of Higher Proficiency for IWTC Monterey Sailors at the Defense Language Institute

Forging Ahead: The Tireless Pursuit of Higher Proficiency for IWTC Monterey Sailors at the Defense Language Institute
By Center for Information Warfare Training - September 7, 2018
MONTEREY, Calif. - Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Monterey has a singular mission: provide a continuum of foreign language training to Navy personnel at the Defense Language Institute (DLI), which prepares them to conduct information warfare across the full spectrum of military operations.

In short, IWTC Monterey makes Navy linguists. Over the years, the strategies employed to accomplish that mission have continuously evolved. However, one thing remains constant: the dedication of IWTC Monterey staff. Leading petty officers, chiefs, military language instructors, civilians, and other leaders work tirelessly to get the best out of each student who passes through their doors. The most recent proficiency score reports from DLI are a testament to their hard work, dedication, and outside the box thinking.

Each student that graduates from one of DLI’s rigorous foreign language courses takes the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) as the final measure of their acquired skill in the language. They are assessed on a scale of 0-5 with “plus” levels in between. A score of 0 indicates no proficiency in a language, and 5 equates to superior, i.e., native-level professional proficiency. DLI students, with rare exceptions, are only tested up to level 3, indicating general professional proficiency. The minimum standard to graduate and progress to become a military linguist is a score of 2 in listening, 2 in reading, and 1+ in speaking (L2/R2/S1+), though L2+/R2+/S2 will be DLI’s graduation standard score by 2024.

DLI is widely known as one of the most demanding military schools in the Department of Defense. The armed forces are under constant pressure to produce capable linguists as DLI production rates ebb and flow over time. In fiscal year 2017, attrition levels were as high as 32 percent in various languages for some students who made it to the end of the course, but were unable to achieve the L2/R2/S1+ graduation standard.

These challenges make the recent accomplishments of IWTC Monterey’s students all the more impressive. During the first three quarters of fiscal year 2018, 95 percent of Navy graduates demonstrated proficiency at or above L2/R2/S1+ compared to the institute-wide rate of 91 percent. More importantly, IWTC Monterey has also continued to trend upward in production rates at standard proficiency levels during the past two years: 91 percent in fiscal year 2017 and 78 percent in fiscal year 2016.

These improvements were not the result of any single policy or program, but of a tiered approach at multiple levels throughout the Navy. It took many years and changes in everything from recruitment of prospective students to individual tutoring programs for current students.

It started with recruitment in 2016, when the Navy changed the preliminary requirements for entry into the cryptologic technician interpretive (CTI) rating. The minimum score on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, a DoD test which measures one’s ability to learn a foreign language, was increased from 95 to 110 for all prospective CTIs. The intent of this policy was to increase the quality of students entering the program at the source.

The next step was to ensure these students were given the best start possible, beginning with command indoctrination. The IWTC Monterey indoctrination program has been continually updated to provide general military and life skills training as well as cultural awareness education relevant to the language program they are entering. This initial curriculum encompasses region-specific topics ranging from geography and political systems to religions, traditions, and customs of the area. This baseline knowledge is vital, as most of DLI’s language programs are quick to introduce authentic materials and media that contain references to those topics.

Students also benefit from the command’s Student Mentor Program immediately upon their initial immersion within their respective language. Student mentors are students who have proven to be active and successful in both their military duties and academic studies. Mentor candidates are interviewed and selected by a board of staff members to fill a limited number of slots. While new Sailors await their class start date, they are introduced to this cadre of student mentors who then guide them through what their journey at DLI will resemble, including academics, expectations, and study tips. Student mentors assist new Sailors throughout their time at DLI by tutoring, sharing their own experiences, and passing on what they have done to be successful.

For students who excel, IWTC Monterey has implemented and expanded incentives. The Sustained Superior Performance (SSP) program is afforded to students who have achieved a score of “excellent” or higher on their physical fitness test, maintained a minimum GPA of 3.5, and kept a clean disciplinary record. Qualifying for SSP identifies a Sailor as a motivated self-starter. They are granted increased personal responsibility and autonomy along with other potential incentives including Meritorious Captain’s Mast, where top-notch Sailors are officially recognized in front of their peers and leaders, and coins from the commanding officer for exceptional DLPT scores.

The end result is a process that prioritizes student success, both in and out of the classroom. There is no better example than recent graduate of the Levantine Arabic Basic Course, Cryptologic Technician Interpretive 3rd Class Patrick Mayeda. After graduating with a L3/R3, a noteworthy achievement in itself, Mayeda went a step further to take the upper range DLPT, which resulted in him achieving a score of L3+/R4. It is difficult to overstate the significance of Mayeda’s achievement. He joins a list of only four other Arabic CTIs Navy-wide with comparable scores and is the first student in the history of the program to score so high before leaving DLI. He attributes his success, in part, to removal of obstacles by the Navy leadership, who prioritized academics. The rest was just good old-fashioned hard work.

“I worked a lot, and it was quantity,” said Mayeda. “I thought to myself in the beginning, this is going to be hard, so the more you get the better. I really bought into it.”

Even the little changes at IWTC Monterey have the potential to change student performance, for better or worse. Student barracks moves may improve morale. Increasing the presence of military language instructors within the schools may help better contextualize language learning. Reorganization of divisions to keep language groups together may reduce administrative burden and inspire esprit de corps. Allowing graduates to work in the schools as assistants while awaiting transfer may motivate current students to succeed as well. All of these things are currently happening and are constantly being reexamined and adjusted for maximum benefit. What is clear is that IWTC Monterey staff remain dedicated to the mission of the command and the Navy.

“While such changes are taking place to improve proficiency levels, it is just a start,” said Cmdr. Michael Salehi, commanding officer of IWTC Monterey. “We must not remain static and always look for more creative ideas and opportunities to achieve even higher scores. I’m confident that we have the right folks on the staff to make necessary changes, but we’re always looking for additional talent and better ideas to enhance our primary mission.”

IWTC Monterey, as part of the Center for Information Warfare Training, provides a continuum of foreign language training to Navy personnel, which prepares them to conduct information warfare across the full spectrum of military operations.

For more on Information Warfare Training Command Monterey, visit and, or find them on Facebook.

TAGS: InfoSharing, KM
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