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This is NOT an official Army-sanctioned webpage. This is just an NCO trying to help other Soldiers out. Whatever my opinions are on here are not to be considered the opinions of the Army, or even considered fact. All information presented should be double-checked with your CLPM and Retention NCO/Recruiter, or double-checked in the Army Regulation or message provided. Despite my best efforts and collaboration with other NCOs, I am sometimes wrong and you shouldn't base your enlistment/re-enlistment solely on what I have to say, but rather use this information as a base for your research.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How do I become a linguist? (Part 2 - Qualifying for a security clearance)

Your next concern after passing the DLAB is, can you get a security clearance? Many people can easily qualify for a security clearance, while some may never get one.  Almost every job I can think of that is language-dependent (meaning you MUST be language qualified to hold that Military Occupational Specialty) or language-capable (meaning you CAN be language qualified) requires a security clearance of at least SECRET.

The three main security clearances you will deal with in the Army are:

TOP SECRET / SCI (Sensitive Comparmented Information)

Most intelligence-related jobs require a TS/SCI clearance.  TS clearances do exist on their own, but they are nearly worthless without access to SCI.  SCI simply means that just because you have a TS clearance doesn't mean that you have access to all of the nation's top secret information.  The intelligence community places select pieces of intelligence into "compartments" so that you only ever have access to what you need to know.

To get a TS/SCI clearance you will need to pass a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI).  If you are an initial entry Soldier, your recruiter will help you with this.  If you are on active duty, you will need to get with your nearest S2 (intelligence) shop and have them set you up to fill out the information on e-QIP (often pronounced "e-quip").  e-QIP replaced the old SF86 and hard copy system of the past.

An SSBI checks your personal history either 10 years prior or to the age of 18, whichever is less.  So if you are 22 years old, your SSBI would check up to 4 years into your past.  Some of the things that the investigators will check are:
  • citizenship
  • criminal record (to include speeding tickets, unpaid fines, things that have been supposedly expunged, suspended driver's licenses, DUIs, etc)
  • education
  • past employment
  • references
  • financial situation (looking for bankruptcies, defaults, late payments, high debt to income ratio, etc)
  • public records
  • drug use
  • and much much more!
The process can take as little as a few months or as long as a few years, depending on how busy the Central Clearance Facility (CCF) is investigating other people, and how accurately you fill out your security questionnaire.  

The primary mistakes people make when filling out their security questionnaire are:
  • lying about drug use or other "criminal" behavior
  • rushing to complete the form and leaving fields blank
  • using the same people over and over again for references
 The worst thing you could possibly due to jeopardize the issuance of your security clearance is lie.  The investigators would rather see that you told the truth about smoking marijuana, for example, rather than lie about it.  If you lie, there is a high probability that if they catch you in the lie that you will be denied a security clearance.

The reason for that is this: national intelligence is often compromised by people who have either made poor financial decisions or who can easily be blackmailed into giving up information.  Those who are deeply in debt and cannot pay their bills are more likely to accept a bribe from a foreign intelligence service (FIS) to settle their debt in exchange for national security information.  People that lie on their clearance about drug use, for example, can also be blackmailed by FIS agents.  They can approach you and tell you that they will tell the government about your drug use if you do not give them intelligence information.

However, if you are truthful on your clearance application and someone approaches you and says "I know you did drugs and I'm going to tell the government if you don't give me intelligence" you can coolly respond - "I already told them myself.  Piss off." :)

I have a friend that has investigated security clearances in the past, and according to him the three biggest reasons for denial of a security clearance are:
  • lying on the application (usually about drug use)
  • poor financial situation (especially bankruptcy)
  • failure to disclose foreign contacts (such as a Russian friend that you lived with in college that isn't a U.S. citizen, or a Syrian female that you have become intimate with after you met in an online chat room)
A good rule of thumb for security clearances is - be thorough, honest, and too much information is better than not enough.  Try to never use the same person twice.  So when it asks you "list a person that knew you while you worked here" try to make sure that isn't the SAME person you list under the section "list a person that knew you while you lived at this address".

And that's pretty much it for the basics of security clearances.  Getting too far into security clearances is a little bit outside of the scope of this blog. Feel free to visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

If you've already read Part 1 (taking the DLAB) and are ready to move on to Part 3 (choosing the right MOS), click here.

How do I become a linguist? (Part 1 - Taking the DLAB)

There are quite a few ways to become a linguist in the Army if you do not already speak a foreign language.  The most important thing you need to do, whether you are currently already in the Army as an enlisted Soldier, commissioned officer, warrant officer, or a civilian getting ready to start the process of joining, is take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB).  The word "battery" in this case simply means "test".  If you cannot score 95 or above, the rest of the process is moot because the Army will not send you to the Defense Language Institute (DLI).

Category I - score of 95 - Danish, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish
Category II - score of 100 - German- Indonesian and Romanian
Category III - score 105 - Albanian, Amharic, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Czech, Persian, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Lao, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, Swahili, Tagalong, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese
Category IV - score 110 or better - Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

Training at DLI is extremely costly for the Department of Defense and the attrition rate is very high, so they want to ensure that you have the potential to learn a new foreign language.

The DLAB supposedly tests your mind's ability to grasp the concept of a foreign language and takes about two gut-wrenching hours to complete.  The DLAB is very difficult to study for and is often considered one of the most difficult academic tests the Army administers for this reason.  I will tell you from personal experience at DLI that a higher DLAB score does not necessarily equate to doing well in the language.  Personally, I only scored a 98 (back then the entrance requirements for each language were slightly lower, so I was able to get into PF) and yet graduated DLI with the highest proficiency you could score at the time.  Others in my class with DLAB scores well into the mid 100s failed the course within the first few weeks.  It's more a matter of dedication once you make it to DLI than it is how well you scored on the entrance exam.

To even take the test you will most likely have to submit a DA form 4187 (Personnel Action) signed by your commander.  For new Soldiers, your recruiter will take care of this for you.  Click here for an example 4187 for DLAB (obviously you will have to change the addresses in the THRU/TO/FROM boxes).

The concept of the DLAB is to give you a made up foreign language and have you attempt to correctly answer questions in a variety of fashions.  Below is one example of how you might be tested:

To make matters a little more complicated, the audio portions of the test do not repeat the questions and use the same made up language.  Often questions are regarding grammatical issues and which question is grammatically correct.  Usually this ends in some sort of culmination.  For example, in the first question you might be told that the noun goes before the verb in this language.  Then in the next set you might be instructed that adjectives go after the noun, and so forth.  In the end you're trying to remember the rules set in place 10 minutes ago.  

I'm not trying to scare you, but this is not an easy test.  And if you fail, you have to wait six months before you can re-take it. Once you pass, however, the test is good for the rest of your career.

So the question you need to ask yourself next is, "how can I study for this?" The answer, of course, is "not very easily." I will, however, try to guide you in the right direction.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you get enough sleep the night before and you are able to concentrate during the exam.  It's a relatively long exam, and it racks your brain.  If you aren't getting good sleep or you're tired it will be hard to concentrate.  Since I mentioned above that the listening portion of the exam does not repeat and culminates, if you miss the instructions for one grammatical rule you could potentially make a mistake on the remainder of the questions.

Another really important puzzle piece is knowing your English grammar definitions really well. If the definition of one of the made-up grammatical rules is "conjunctions can be placed anywhere in a sentence" and you don't know what a conjunction is, you will miss the question.  This is (hopefully) less of an issue for civilians coming right out of high school or college because they should be constantly exposed to these things.  However, for prior service who have been in the Army for quite some time and have been away from English grammar for years, this is crucial to study.

Lastly, I located a short study guide on the internet.  Here is a link to the sample of the study guide, but please ignore a lot of the administrative data because it is outdated and focus just on the practice questions.  Alternatively, you can buy the full study guide for $30 here in hard copy. They also have a Kindle version, but it's $10 more. I am not affiliated with this website whatsoever. I only found it on Google, just like you. I haven't actually read their study guide, but it gets decent reviews (aside from complaints about the cost). However, it's only about 45 pages long.

I've also compiled some websites that teach you English Grammar:

1. Guide to Grammar and Writing
2. Basics of English Grammar

Not only will learning English grammar help you dramatically on the DLAB, but it will help you at DLI as well, because the majority of the instructors use the same definitions to explain the new language to you.

Please leave your comments below regarding your experiences in taking the DLAB!

When you're done doing that, feel free to move on to Part 2 (getting a security clearance). 

If you have questions, please feel free to visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

History of Linguists in the U.S. Army

Formal language training for Army linguists is relatively new compared to the age of the Army.  Official training at the Military Intelligence Service Language School for Japanese linguists began in secret in November 19411 at the Presidio in San Francisco, CA. In 1946 the school was moved approximately 110 miles south, where instruction continues today at the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) located in Monterey, CA.  During the Cold War the training program rapidly expanded to include Russian and German.

Graduation of Department of Defense linguists at the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center in Monterey

In addition, the Department of Defense maintains DLI-Washington (known to many linguists as "DLI-East"), where less common (low-density) languages are taught.

Lastly, DLI also manages the Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLIELC), which teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) to foreign students.  Primary instruction for this course is taught at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.

An Afghan student learns English at DLIELC

1About Army Linguists - ; Defense Language Institute - Wikipedia

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Welcome to "an Army Linguist"! Over the course of the next few weeks/months I will be updating this blog with resources for all Army (and some DoD) linguists.  It's a challenging and rewarding job to have as one of the limited amount of linguists the Army employs.  For those of us located in maneuver units, such as major infantry divisions, it can be a daunting task for us linguists to maintain proficiency, get answers to our language-related questions, and even get paid.

Hopefully with the advent of my blog and my future spot in the Army Command Language Program Manager (CLPM) course in June I can help many linguists find their way in this maze of training and regulations...all the while learning a little bit more myself.

I'm looking forward to input, questions you may have that I can try to answer, and feedback on the blog to make it a better tool for linguists.

If you have questions, please feel free to visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.


This is NOT, I say again, NOT, an official Army sanctioned page. This is just me trying to help my fellow Soldiers out. Whatever my opinions are on here are not to be considered the opinions of the Army, or even considered as fact. I am fairly knowledgeable, but ultimately questions should be addressed to your career counselors, recruiters, etc.