Marines SLAC off to prepare for OIF

29 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

Even though Lance Cpl. Thomas R. Richardson is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, the fire team leader with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment still claims he lacked some understanding of the Arabic culture.  But that’s all changing, thanks to a perspective-broadening course aboard the Coastal Carolina Community College campus here.

“Considering how I have no Arabic background myself, this class has been a huge educational experience,” the Durham, NC native said.   “I understand now that it’s not all the Iraqis that are shooting at us. 

“This course has taught all (of the students) so much.”

The former C.E. Jordan High School lacrosse player referred to how the Iraqi instructors teaching the Survival Level Arabic Course have given the class invaluable language skills, and broadened the Marines’ cultural perspective.

Richardson and other 2nd Marine Division personnel take this course to carry out the division commanding general’s order: that one Marine per squad in the division enrolls in the SLAC, a total of approximately 250 Marines. 

By learning basic Iraqi-Arabic speaking skills and teaching those Marines in their units that don’t attend SLAC, the Marines will be better prepared to communicate with the locals upon deploying to Iraq in 2005. 

Over 100 students have already graduated from the course.  Richardson said his class started the SLAC Sept. 13 and graduated Oct. 1, and claimed that the course had been “absolutely beneficial.”

“I come from a Syrian-Arabic background, and it still gives me a way better perspective on what the Iraqi culture is all about,” stated Private 1st Class Ali M. Cray, infantryman with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and native of Wayne, NJ.  “I knew some Arabic beforehand, but now I’m getting fluent at it.”

According to the Wayne Valley High School varsity volleyball player, SLAC teaches students the basics of the Iraqi variation of the Arabic language.  On a typical class day, students review the material from the previous day as well as homework from the night before.
Following the review, the class learns about the Iraqi culture, to include its ancient history and current political issues the Middle East is facing.  The Marines view slide show presentations and videos on aspects of the Arabic culture.

The instructors give students quick reference books containing the English and Arabic versions of common words and phrases for the language portion of the course.  The books also contain phonetic spellings of words to aid in their proper pronunciation, as well as the Arabic script spelling. 

In addition, the teachers issue each Marine an audio CD to help their listening skills.  They assign homework most every night to ensure students are up to speed on their language skills.
“We have an assignment almost every night,” Cray stated.  “We write a lot of dialogues in Arabic, and then we have to go read it in front of the class the next morning.”

Students acknowledge that learning has taken place since they first walked into class Sept. 13.

“I couldn’t believe how much progress we were making so quickly,” Cray remarked.  “The course pace was quick and to the point, but somehow, we were still writing our names in Arabic script by the end of the first hour the first day of class.”

“The amount of progress we made in the areas of reading and writing were amazing,” agreed Richardson.

But the students aren’t the only ones who believe the cultural and linguistic training is highly beneficial.

“This class will help them communicate more effectively with the Iraqis (once the Marines deploy), said Dr. Philip Hermiz, SLAC instructor and a native of Duhok, Iraq.  “They have shown much improvement and interest in the Arab language from when they first started.  They take the class very seriously.  Sometimes, when we’re watching cultural familiarization videos, they don’t even want to take breaks.”

The new cultural perspectives and linguistic skills will help keep Marines safer in Iraq, as Hermiz said he believes the Iraqis will respect an American who speaks basic Arabic much more than one who doesn’t.  The Marines’ newfound communication skills will help them distinguish friend from foe and get a better grasp on a unique, foreign culture.

“I’ve definitely gained more respect for the Arab culture,” Richardson stated.  “After we finish the course, we’ll go back to our units and teach other Marines some of the basics of what we learned.  This sort of training will help keep us safe overseas and help the Iraqi and American people will understand each other better.”