JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
Nested in the corner of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland lies the Defense Language Institute English Language Center. Identifiable by its kempt campus, DLIELC is home to more than 400 civilian and military employees whose mission is to teach English and immerse its international and domestic students into the American culture.
Although the foreign flags adorning the arms of international military students is commonplace, and expected, there is another large, prominent group that makes up a large number of the DLIELC student population: the United States Army Echo Company.
The recruits, or trainees, that come into Echo Company are permanent residents or U.S. citizens with backgrounds from a multitude of countries.
Although currently living in the U.S., they usually come from niche communities of similar speaking people; therefore, their English proficiency is not to the level required for a career in the US Army.
Echo Company provides a pathway for these recruits into the US Army, by providing the English language education necessary to take and pass the English Comprehension Level Test, while preparing them for Basic Combat Training. Echo Company also provides the Army with diversity and critically-needed linguists.
Echo Company trainees also have the unique experience of interacting with a multitude of individuals from varying countries around the world before officially joining the military. This could prove invaluable for the United Stated Security Cooperation mission as they join the military and climb the ladder to higher ranking positions.
Command Sgt. Major Daniel Santiago-Alonso, sergeant major of the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, was a graduate of DLIELC by way of Echo Company.
“I saw the Army as an opportunity to get a job, do something with my life, provide for my family and learn another language," he mentioned in an interview with the Main Street Clarksville newspaper. "My parent language was Spanish. They sent me to the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio for four months to learn English, all I did was take classes, and then I was able to go to basic training and AIT.”
Prospects like Command Sgt. Major Santiago-Alonso are a demographic that the United States Air Force has not yet had the opportunity to tap into. The Air Force hopes to change that in 2020.
In early 2020 the 37th Training Wing, commanded by Col. Jason Janaros, will beta test a similar program to the Army's Echo Company to give an even more diverse group of future Airman the opportunity to serve their country. While learning the rudimentary steps to becoming a full-fledged Air Force recruit, these students will be given the opportunity to polish their English abilities and international knowledge before moving on to Basic Military Training.
This will be a collaboration between Air Force Recruiting Services, DLIELC, and BMT to find the recruits, refine their English skills, and guide them into becoming members of the USAF.
For updates on the beta test as it moves forward, visit https://www.facebook.com/DLIELCLACKLAND/ and facebook.com/37thTrainingWing/.