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‘Cottonbalers’ demonstrate success of intensive language training course

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POSTED: September 7, 2012 9:37 a.m.
Sgt. Mary Katzenberger/

"Cottonbalers” from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, raise their hands to answer a vocabulary question from Spc. Assal Ravandi, an automated logistics specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Inf. Regt., Aug. 30, in a classroom on Fort Stewart, Ga.

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FORT STEWART, Ga. – More than 20 “Cottonbalers” from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, transformed a crowded Fort Stewart, Ga., classroom into the dusty roads and majestic mountains of Afghanistan, Aug. 30, using the power of language alone.

The soldiers, under the instruction of Spc. Assal Ravandi, an automated logistics specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Inf. Regt., and a native Dari speaker, demonstrated for battalion leadership their grasp of the Dari language—one of the primary languages spoken in Afghanistan—which they have gained through participation in the battalion’s Internal Dari Language Training course.

The course, in its sixth week, is the first of its kind in the “Vanguard” brigade. soldiers enrolled in the course spend their duty days in the classroom learning words, grammar and sentence structure through a curriculum devised by Ravandi and vetted by “Cottonbaler” leadership.

“It’s not every day you get a chance—especially for someone with my rank—to be able to create and execute,” Ravandi said. “In the Army you’re always given instructions and you execute the instructions given—you have to earn [the right] to create and implement. It’s a great honor that I was trusted with this program.”

Ravandi said she began developing the course curriculum when her battalion leadership recognized that her knowledge of the Dari language was an asset to the unit and ultimately put her in charge of language instruction.

Ravandi added that the final version of phase one of the course, which ends Sept. 28, is based on material she gathered from the Defense Language Institute and personal research on teaching strategies. She said the course also incorporates games like vocabulary challenges and charades, as well as news clips from Voice of America, the largest U.S. broadcast operation, funded by the U.S. government.

Spc. Joseph E. Riopelle, an infantryman with Company D, 3rd Bn., 7th Inf. Regt., said his favorite takeaway from the course thus far has been the complete classroom experience—from the motivation of the students to learn to the motivation shown by the instructor to ensure that every soldier performs at the highest level.

The Summerfield, Fla., native said he believes the language course has given him vital tools he can use for whatever mission he encounters in the future. He said he feels confident he can interact with Dari speakers and said the power of knowing the language will allow him and his fellow soldiers to more effectively help people.

Pfc. Andrew J. Tina, an infantryman with Company A, 3rd Bn., 7th Inf. Regt., agreed.

“I think it’s a great advantage and opportunity to take the class because if I ever need to speak Dari to an [Afghan] soldier or anybody else—maybe even the enemy—then I’ll be able to do it,” the Denver, Colo., native said.

While Ravandi said she is aware of her role in taking soldiers who knew nothing of the language to having legitimate conversational and comprehension skills, the automated logistics specialist is quick to put full credit on her battalion leadership for having the vision to understand the importance that language plays in foreign relations and in soldier combat readiness.

“I know that a lot of problems happen between countries because someone didn’t understand somebody or didn’t want to,” Ravandi said. “I hope [my students] take this tool with them … and [that] they’re able to [use it to] secure the peace and keep the respect of the world.”

Ravandi said based on the success of the program thus far, a second phase of training—which will cover the Dari alphabet and writing—is slated for early October.

 

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