You know some savvy American citizens with skills that might be handy some time? Here’s a potential opportunity:
During the pilot, a team of nationally recognized experts is developing, testing, and evaluating the prototype concept of operations, potentially leading to a plan for a fully operational NLSC in fiscal 2010. The pilot includes recruiting and enrolling 1,000 charter members with competency in ten languages important to national security and welfare of the nation. The following languages have been identified so far: Hausa, Hindi, Indonesian, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Somali, Swahili and Vietnamese. The operational concept for employing these languages is being examined and refined during three activation exercises. The director, National Security Education Program (NSEP) is coordinating the participation of federal agencies as partners for the three activation exercises. The final two languages will be identified when the exercise plans have been completed.
This is entirely too small and should have been done a long time ago, and I’ve been beating the drum about it in, ah, certain places. But it’s a great start and small might be better for more effective implementation.
There’s been historical resistance to the idea based on perceived risk. A classic example is the language skills inherent in World War Two Japanese-Americans, where a few traitors were working for Japanese interests in the short term–but many more were heroic in support of their adopted country. America clearly benefited overall from its citizens who came from a country at which we were at war. The key is to do a realistic assessment of risk and gain (which incidentally allays fears of xenophobic or risk-averse decision makers), and then identify and support immigrant Americans with language and cultural skills so that if we suddenly need, for example, a whole bunch of citizens with clearances who speak Dari and are willing to help, we can quickly capitalize on that banked skill set. There are a lot of languages out there–you know how many are spoken in, say, Chad? You think we could have used some Indonesian speakers airlifted to the task force after the tsunami? How many Haitian Creole speakers do we have who can and will drop everything at short notice to assist DoD or DoS if the expeditionary strike group has to land after an earthquake or unrest, for instance? Who can help out when your three Obscuristani speakers get sick all of a sudden?
These guys are going to be in a pilot program; a thousand folks isn’t a lot when you’re talking surged civilians with other work lives for just-in-case scenarios. But it’s a heck of a lot better than nothing, and a lot less costly than sending someone to school for the language just in case who doesn’t practice it and will sit at a desk in the Pentagon afterward.