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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Life at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA

One commenter asked:

I am a future soldier going into the army as a 35P later this year. After BCT I'll ship out to Monterey, Ca for DLI. I'm pretty excited about going there and learning a new language regardless if the army selects it for me. My questions to you are " What was life at DLI like?", "Did you enjoy your time there as well as your language?", "How did you feel when you were assigned Persian-Farsi?". Maybe you could make a post addressing these questions, but regardless Thank You for your informative posts.

So I will oblige you on my experiences at DLI.  Remembering, of course, that I am getting older as the days go by and so Monterey is a somewhat distant memory from a long time ago :)  I kid, I kid...

To answer your last question first, I wasn't given Persian-Farsi, I actually picked it when I re-enlisted in 2002.  I picked it because at the time the DLI instruction was lacking Dari and Pashtu, and I wanted to deploy to Afghanistan after 9/11 (I joined the Army about 8 months before 9/11 occurred).

As for Monterey...for me, it wasn't my favorite duty station in the least. Monterey has a lot to offer and it is a lot better than many assignments you might find in the military, but I was so busy and learning a new language was so nerve-racking that I didn't really enjoy my time there.  I have a biased opinion of Monterey that some might find downright negative, so I will do my best to outline some of the positives :)

For one, I am a fan of warm weather.  The climate in Monterey is very wet and mediocre.  It's always foggy in the mornings, lots of rain or at least drizzle, and the temperature usually ranges in the 50-70 degree range.  It never gets really cold but it never really gets truly warm, either.  Along the same lines, the water on the west coast is FREEZING.  Most people cannot tolerate the temperature of the water unless they are wearing a wet suit.  So while you may live right near the beach, you can't really enjoy the water.

Monterey is also a tourist town.  That means any time you go somewhere, there are always a bunch of cheap tshirt shops, tourists, lines, traffic, and difficulty parking.  Somewhat paradoxically, however, Monterey is very stuck uppish (I just made that word up, see how awesome of a linguist I am) and at least when I lived there from 2004-2005 there were almost no major chain restaurants.  You had to drive 30 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart.  Groceries and gas were astronomical, as are the rent prices for housing.

Your best bet, if you are married, is to live off post in Pacific Grove.  It's the closest and most reasonable place to live.  When I first moved there I lived in Marina, which is only about 14 miles away from base, but a very long trip in traffic at the end of the day.

One great thing about the surrounding area is the things to do in your free time.  You can check out the pier, San Francisco is only 110 miles north (make sure you call days in advance to get your ticket to go see Alcatraz though, because if you try to do it on a whim, you won't get tickets), there are beautiful houses to sight see, great bike paths to bike on along Seven Mile Drive...among other things...if you like to golf there is Pebble Beach golf course nearby, lighthouses, and all kinds of other things.

All in all it was a very stressful time for me as I was attempting to learn a language, so I don't think I got to enjoy it nearly as much as I could have.  I think that if I went back as an instructor I would enjoy it a lot more.  In addition to learning a language, as the only NCO from the Army that didn't fail out of the course, I was having to take charge of 20 Soldiers and do their counselings, teach them Warrior Tasks, test graduating classes on Warrior Tasks, grade PT tests, go to rifle ranges, you name it.  So I didn't have much free time to enjoy myself.

One thing you have to REALLY be careful about is that DLI is almost like college.  As such, there are ALWAYS parties in the barracks, people always going into town and staying up late, you name it.  So many people fail because they get too wrapped up in the location and life there instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing - studying a foreign language.  I have known MANY people who went to DLI for "simple" languages like Spanish, thinking that because they took a few classes in high school that they would be able to coast through and party all the time, only to find themselves failing out.

Even though Spanish, French, and other CAT II languages are "easy", they make up for the difficulty by cramming the language down your throat in 6 months instead of a year or more. The average linguist needs to know at least 2000 words to be completely fluent (I read that somewhere) so that's a lot of vocabulary to be studying in a short period of time.


  1. I pretty much figured that DLI would require a ton of studying. I dont think I'll have a hard time adjusting to DLI if its anything like college life. Thanks for the informative post SFC J. Im Looking foward to your future posts!

  2. I did not get the chance to go to the DLI, I mgoing to AIT at Texas straightly next week.

  3. I did not get the chance to go there. I m going to the AIT for CM next week.

  4. Most of what you have said still holds true SFC J. I recently graduated from DLI and many of the people who fail out do so because they fall into old habits instead of studying. I followed an old saying I heard once about college. You can sleep, study, or party in college but you can only pick two if you wish to be successful. Also, study ahead of your class curriculum and you will have no trouble at all.

  5. I have to verify the traffic. I live on old Ft. Ord, and it can take me 45 minutes to drive home some afternoons. For those thinking linguist, if you want to apply yourself 6 nights a week, you have a great chance here.

    For those of you on your way here, if you end up with Pashto, I was put on Med-Hold, so my squad is about to graduate without me, and I'm hoping to build a new squad. The biggest thing is watch your attitude and military bearing. We've nearly doubled in the 15 months I've been here, and I'm sick of dealing with stupid discipline issues, so if you're coming here, be prepared to act like a soldier, not a child.

  6. Thank you for verifying what I said :)

  7. A nice place to visit is Santa Cruz Beach while you're in Monterey. It's about 30 mins away to HOT sun, WARM water and lots of fun (whether your single or married with kids). Trust me. Look it up and it will be worth the trip. Many DLI folks don't know about it for some reason, but it could be just the mental break they need!

  8. my son is worried about the length of the classes and does not think he can sit 8 hours in the classroom, is this how the classes are run, or is it more like college where classes are a couple of hours then you move on to the next and study after classes?

    1. Sorry for the late response, I didn't see this message while I was deployed.

      Classes usually ran from about 730-330 each day with 10 minute breaks and some relatively short lunch times.

      If he can't sit in a class all day and study after, he's going to have a hell of a time at DLI

  9. I graduated second in my class (Farsi) nearly thirty years ago. I would love to pop in for a day and compare the instructional methods of today as opposed to back then. It must be like night and day.

    1. Ha, even ten years later I'd love to see it.

  10. Thanks for the Blog. Very informative. I will be going to DLI in January 2014 to learn Arabic. I am an Army Sergeant. Something you said.....are you telling me you STILL had to counsel Soldiers? Are these Soldiers only the ones in your actual class or could you be supervisor to other Soldiers in another class/language? I thought I could just focus on going to class and being a student like at other AITs. I knew we would still do pt and the rifle ranges. We also have to keep up with Soldiers too? I can see why you had no free time. Only other NCOs know how much personal time it takes to ensure your squad is taken care of. If you have time left over you take care of yourself! Congrats on making it through to the end.

    1. Ha, don't even get me started.

      That's correct, I still had to counsel Soldiers, organize and conduct PT for my squad of 20 (the other NCOs had failed out of class leaving me in charge of about 20 or 22 I think), teach and test warrior tasks, go to rifle ranges, pull duty, you name it.

      Thanks for the congrats, I'm sure you will be good to go. Just focus and remember that you are there primarily to learn a language. I know that sounds obvious but many people get caught up in sightseeing, screwing off, drinking in the barracks, etc. Basically some people show up and treat it like college where you can screw off, but you can't. You've been given a once in a lifetime chance at an amazing skill and you can't piss it away.

      We even had Spanish speaking Soldiers go and fail Spanish because they figured they could just breeze through, but you can't.

      Yes Spanish, French, etc are all "easy" languages but they compensate for the ease of the language by stuffing it into six months.

      Perhaps they've lessened the burden on SGTs - remember I went about a decade before you will have gone.

  11. It seems that things have changed for the worse. I was there in the early 90s and those that had been there at the end of the 80s said it was better then. What is all of this drill stuff? The Army was always losing more people because they were cramming soldier skills with language learning--not even the Marines tried such madness. And the Air Force? Well they got extra money because quarters were not up to their standards.

    1. I graduated from the Arabic program back in 1989, and I have some great memories from that time! On the one hand, it could be compared to a huge frat house where drinking was the preferred way to relieve the accademic stress. I remember my first weekend pulling ACQ duty where I was told to keep a close eye on a particular soldier who had passed out from drinking all night. My job was to peak my head in his barracks room door (which had been strategically left open a crack by either the CQ or a concerned buddy) just to make sure he still had a pulse.

      Having come from a conservative upbringing, fresh out of basic training, with no prior alcohol experience, you can imagine my shock at coming straight into something like this.

      There was a saying at the time, concerning the Eagle statue located down the hill from us, that if a girl were ever to leave DLI while still a virgin, that it would get up and fly away.

      That contrasting atmosphere of high pressure cramming and weekend binge drinking made for a wierd atmosphere that was definitely more college like than military. Some of the smarter guys skipped the heavy drinking and got into surfing, biking, camping, working at Pebble Beach, or even getting involved with Campus Crusade.

      You can pick your poison, but relieving the stress was something that everyone had to do just to stay sane.

      PT was no joke their either. There were some monster athletes leading the run groups up and down those killer hills!

      DLI was probably my favorite experience in all of the military, so you should definitely make an attempt at enjoying yourself in that beautiful location. Just don't forget to why you're there.

  12. I am a single E-5 headed to DLI in Jan 2014. Recently found out I won't be allowed to stay in the barracks (yay!) once I get there. The Army will pay me BAH to find a place. Any suggestions? I went online and I think I want to stay close to the base. It seems Pacific Grove, Seaside, or Marina are the cities that are closest. Salinas is an option but it's about 15 miles away. I want to be VERY close to base so I don't have such a long drive after those late study sessions at DLI. Have any of you lived in those cities when attending DLI?