JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas. —
Initial entry trainees, from various parts of the world, with the hope of joining the United States Army, must learn the language that will take them to the next level.
Some are fresh out of school, while others look for a new career that will not only serve the U.S., but support their families in the process.
Echo Company works with the Defense Language Institute English Language Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland to help trainees bring their English skills up to a level where they’ll be able to enlist in basic training with the Army.
“Our sole purpose here is English language learning,” said Capt. Tyler Mallon, Echo Company commander. “We take initial entry trainees. They are pre-basic trainees who haven’t gone to basic training. This is their first experience in the Army.”
Trainees include people with green cards who can gain U.S. citizenship once they graduate from both the Echo program and basic training with the Army. Ninety percent of trainees are from Puerto Rico, where citizenship already exists.
“By coming here first, even if it’s just for two weeks, [the trainees] get their keys to success,” Mallon said. “They’re learning and improving a language. They’re trying to learn what it means to become a soldier.”
Trainees are under the watchful eyes of drill sergeants tasked with getting them to DLI daily for English lessons. Drill sergeants also ensure trainees maintain pace with physical readiness training and Army life.
“Last year we had a lot of trainees that were affected by Hurricane Maria from different walks of life,” said Senior Drill Sergeant Mayraibeth Berry, 1-40th Field Artillery Battalion. "They wanted something different.”
“Once they grasp that language, and they’re used to the drill sergeants yelling at them, they can take a deep breath, they can listen and understand what the drill sergeant is telling them to do and respond accordingly,” Mallon said.
“You have to instill the discipline from day one,” Berry added.
New trainees start with a briefing at Echo Company on Tuesdays that tells them what to expect.
“You’re now in the Army and they’re paying you to improve your English,” Mallon added. “Your language learning is our top priority and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure you succeed in all that.”
Once trainees comprehend the English language and pass a required test, they are shipped out to one of the four Army basic training facilities across the United States.
Since 1975 Echo Company has prepared trainees for Army military basic training. Trainees from approximately 38 different countries went through training at Echo Company in 2017.
Trainees can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to complete English training. Echo Company has a 95 percent graduation rate.