The Defense Language Institute

Been There, Done That

Students at DLI
The picture displays a typical makeup of the students attending DLI at any given time. The civilian staff and teachers are in front of the military formation.. Official DOD Photo

By Trish, one of our readers.

DLIFLC (The Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center) is located on the Presidio of Monterey, in Monterey CA. While the school is located on an Army Post and is run by the Army, it is officially a "joint-service" school. The DLIFLC is the primary foreign language training institution within the Department of Defense (DoD), conducts full-time foreign language resident training, exercising technical control of nonresident foreign language training in the Defense Foreign Language Program.

The DLIFLC provides foreign language services to DoD, government agencies, and foreign governments.

Now for the good part:

If you arrive at DLI right out of basic training, you're essentially treated like you're in Army AIT/Air Force Technical School/Navy A-School, and you are required to comply with the normal restrictions of technical training (See Technical Training School Restrictions in side bar). If you're Army, this means you're assigned to Bravo Company, Drill Sergeants and all. After passing all phase testing for phase four and five, you move to another company, based on language. The Marines, having gone through Marine Combat Training (MCT), are considered careerists, and have privileges from the day they get here.

When I say Drill Sergeants (Army), be assured that they're not the same animal as your Basic Training Drill Sergeant. All Drill Sergeants (as well as platoon sergeants in the other companies, and I assume the same goes for the other commands) are linguists, and have been to DLI as students at least once.

Most of them have been Military Language Instructors (MLI). They know what class is like, and are very sympathetic to any problems you might have, as long as you are trying, not shamming or slacking off. But woe to anyone who thinks they can get away with things just because the Drill Sergeants don't act like they're out to get you!

Standards are much higher here than in Basic, because they expect you to act like you know what you're doing, rather than having to be told every little thing.

For the Army, you're going to start out in B Co. The rules are strict. You'll have one roommate, the furniture must be arranged a certain way, GI Parties (cleaning common areas) every Sunday, no personalization of rooms except for maybe a couple of pictures on your desk or so. You won't have any free time to speak of in Bravo. All I did with the time I wasn't in class or doing other obligations was sleep. On the weekends, I'd stay in and relax. I was a real barracks rat.

Depending on your language, you'll move to A Co, C Co, or F Co after about 13 weeks unless you're hurt, (If you can't pass a PT test, you don't leave) a discipline problem, or out of class that quickly. You have to be in class or have a seat in an upcoming class to move. In the "gaining companies" you can do whatever you want with your room as long as your roommate agrees.

Depending on how long you've been in your company, you can move to nicer barracks if there's room and you don't have any disciplinary action against you. The "up-the-hill" barracks for Charlie and Alpha have bigger rooms and a bathroom with a tub for every barracks room. In Foxtrot, everybody starts out with those barracks.

Once you move to a different company, (or in the other commands, get to the highest phase) life gets more oriented toward learning the language, and less toward soldierization.

If you're married (or if you get married), have more than six months left in your class, and you have reached the appropriate phase level to be allowed off base (for your service, see right sidebar) you are allowed to live at the Fort Ord Military Community. From what I hear, there's no wait for houses, and they're all three-bedroom stand-alone houses, some with fenced yards, some not. That's the only situation where Initial Entry Training (IET) folks are aloowed to live off post. If you're careerist, that's another story. The National Guard MPs who are on the gates are taking up a lot of housing, and they've run short for students. I know at least three E-5s who live in apartments off post.

Some classes don't start immediately. Mine started nine working days after I arrived, so I wasn't on casual duty for more than two days. "Casual Duty" is a time-period used for those who are waiting for their class to start. Individuals in "Casual" are usually assigned to perform details. Some people are on casual duty for months, because they're not in a high-demand language, or because they get bumped from their original seat, or they could be taking a "head-start" course for their language rather than casual duty. When you start class, you take a duffle bag with you to the auditorium of your school, listen to a welcome speech made by the Chief MLI, an exceedingly busy man who you will never ever see again, unless you're in trouble. You will be issued a foot-high stack of paperbound books, some dictionaries, about 100 cassette tapes (if you're in Arabic, less for other languages) and a tape player. You go meet your teachers, and get assigned a name in your target language.

I don't care what language you've got. It is going to be insanely fast-paced and difficult. If it's a more difficult language, they may spend a month on basic alphabet and sounds, but once you've got that down, they pour on the vocabulary. If the language isn't in a different alphabet, they start pouring on the vocab from day one, because they've got a much shorter time to work with. Consider this: All teachers work to prepare their students to the same level of fluency. Some have 16 months to accomplish this, some only have 6.

Back to class. Class is from 0755-1530, Monday through Friday, with PT and other training AFTER scheduled class time. All classes ("sections") have no more than ten students (mine is down to six) at any given time. They share a teaching team with one or two other sections. There is often more than one teaching team in an "class", which consists of 40-60 students. The senior ranking student in each section is the section leader (mine is an Army SSG) and the senior ranking student in the class is the class leader (Mine is currently an Army major, but before he arrived, it was a CW-5. That man is a marvel to watch). This is your academic chain of command, along with your MLI. You will have between four and six teachers, who are all (with very rare exceptions) native speakers of the language you are learning. They will hit you with the target language from day one, and I don't think I've ever seen any of them write in English on the board. YMMV, of course.

So, you're stuck in a tiny room with nine other people and a teacher. You get a break every hour, and it's a good thing! By the end of the day -- heck, by the end of every hour -- your brain is numb and spinning from the amount of information you're trying to parse. If it's not, be happy. You may have a serious talent for this language.

You will have problems with at least one of your classmates, at least once seriously, during the course. You will seriously wonder if all of this pain is worth it. I'm going to tell you right now, it is. As I approach the end (OK, it's still a little more than four months away, but I've been in class for nearly a year now) of my course, my feelings of pride and sense of accomplishment grows.

So, what's a typical day like?

A Day on Phase 4

0530 Wake up.

0530-0655 shower, dust off boots, inspect freshly pressed uniform for stray threads, etc., dress, make bunk tightly (with military linen), find the vacuum and clean, straighten desk, dust, raise window shades to halfway, do your hall chores (clean bathroom, hallway, etc.) go to dining facility and eat (if you have time).

0655 Anything less than 10 minutes early is late, so it's time to start heading for the parking lot for 0710 formation. Take the trash with you; leaving any will get you gigs on any room-walkthroughs.

0700 Reveille. Face the music and salute. Shortly after this, platoon guides will start falling in the platoons. If you're a squad leader, find all of your people so you don't have to do that embarrassing (and droppable offense) counting-the-squad-as-the-PG-calls-for-accountability.

0710 Formation. The Drill Sergeants and other cadre stroll to formation. If you came running up within the last three minutes, you've probably done pushups as you went by them.

During formation, accountability is taken, information is passed out, awards are given, and uniforms and boots are inspected, both formally (open-ranks) at least once a week, and informally every day. Appearance standards are very strict.

0730 Formation ends. You've got 25 minutes before class, so if you didn't take time to eat before, now is it. Of course, you now have to fight through the hordes of other people just getting out of formation as well. Or, you can go relax and review your homework in the classroom.

0755 Class starts. Class is 50 minutes long with a 10 minute break every hour. At 0945, the break is 15 minutes.

1150 Time for lunch. Go read the Action Notice. Failure to do so is to risk becoming "Town Crier" and/or an Article 15 (nonjudicial punishment) if you've skipped it often enough.

If you're in the first two months of class, or if you're on "Special Assistance," class starts again at 1300. If not, you get an extra 40 minutes.

1340-1530 More class.

1530 Out of class, but not done for the day. Read the Action Notice on the way to your room. Change quickly into the proper PT uniform, and hustle to the proper venue.

1600 Do PT. On M-W-F, this is usually running of some sort, long runs, medium runs, sprints.

1700 Retreat. Face the music and salute. If you haven't been dismissed from PT yet, you'll do it as a formation.

1710 Go back to your room and shower. Put on clean PTs and go eat.

1900 Mandatory study time (called "Mando"). You can go to the library if you want, but otherwise, it's in your room with the door open, studying. If you haven't started class, you can study a "head-start" program, or you can iron your uniform and shine your boots for the next day.

2100 Mando ends. Iron your uniform, and start on your boots before you have to go to formation.

2145 Bedcheck formation. Answer your name with "Here, Drill Sergeant!" and go back to your room.

2200 Curfew. Be in your room. Finish ironing and polishing, and if you're behind in class or didn't finish your homework during Mando, do so now. Collapse into bed, because tomorrow is identical, except PT is at 0515 (pushups/situps) and soldierization training is after school.

A Day on phase 5A

See above. In addition, curfew is an hour later, no bed-check formation, and you can wear civilian clothes. If you want to go to the time and trouble, you can fill out passes to drink (if you're of age) and stay out all night. Approval is at the whim of the Drill Sergeants.

A Day on phase 5B

0600 Get up, or sleep in another half hour. It depends on how quick you can get ready.

0600-0715 Shower, dress, do hall chores, make bed smoothly with civilian linen, make sure room is presentable, go to chow hall and eat.

0730 Formation. Fall in, make sure the PG knows where everybody is (It is common for people to take formation passes or be in the schoolhouse in the morning) Accountability is taken, information given, awards handed out, promotions, etc. Uniforms are inspected roughly once a month, although if the platoon sergeant doesn't like the look of you at any time, you could end up with corrective training).

0735 Formation ends.

0755-1530 See above.

1530 Read the Action Notice, go back to your room, and go to PT (M-W-F only. Tues, stay in BDUs for 5+ training, anything from NBC to UCMJ to MOS training)

1700 Get released from PT, shower, change, eat, do whatever you want, as long as homework is in there somewhere.

There is no curfew, but if you are planning to drink (and are of legal age), you still need an alcohol pass, and plan. This is so the drill sergeants are aware of who is drinking and where and who they are going to be with. This is to prevent any possible craziness.

If you're doing well in school, you'll have plenty of free time. Essentially, any time after 1700 and before 0730 is yours. DLI supplies a lot of volunteers to the community. If you have the time and the willingness to help, do it. Your volunteer hours are tracked, and if you get a lot of them, you get a battalion coin, which you can show off at future boards. You can do things like Christmas in July, which helps poor and/or disabled kids shopping at the local mall. There's the Salmon and the Rock Cod Derbys, for the disabled veterans, and you can go fishing in the bay with them. We provide volunteers for at least 3 marathons a year, setting up the course, being directors at key points on the course, handing out water, etc. In the summer, there's events at Laguna Seca (racing, superbikes, cars, etc) just about every weekend. We also help out at certain golf tournaments each year, like the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Lots of celebrities at that one, so if you're lucky, you could get autographs. I know I'm forgetting lots and lots more.

I think one of the reasons that you're encouraged to volunteer, is because you're here for such a long time. All of this gives you positive things to brag about on Soldier of the Month, and promotion boards. For example, by the time I get to permanent party, I'll have 24 months TIS. I'll be an E-4. I should get a waiver for E-4 sometime this fall, and once I hit TIG for E-5, I'll be up in front of a promotion board, with not a lot of job experience. But if I have education credit (another thing you can do with your spare time, get an AA from Monterey Peninsula College) and volunteer hours, I look a lot better to the board, and for the chances of getting on the list for E-5. Volunteering also makes you look good to the cadre, and you often end up a leader, which is all positive, because odds are, you're going to run into this cadre later in your career, and they remember things. (For example, if I go to Ft Gordon, I may end up working under my former 1SG.)

Prior Service

For the most part, it's very similar to what the Iniitial Entry Training (IET) students do, except prior service are not restricted by the Phase Program. Class is 6 hours a day, PT three times a week, Battalion retreats once a month, etc. But since you're prior service, you may be tapped for extra duties. Which ones depends on your rank. If you're in a language full of officers, like Italian or French, you won't have anything extra to do in the classroom, and may well be the junior member. If you're in a larger language (Arabic and Korean spring to mind) you may end up being a section leader, or even a class leader. I know of IET E-4s who are section leaders, and it's not easy. Not only do you have to do the paperwork (attendance, etc.) but you have to maintain discipline, and be a role model, especially as prior service. You're not cut as much slack as the IETers.

Depending on your rank, there's a slew of other duties that are usually begging for people to do them. The 229th MI Bn is the largest training Bn in the Army, (Same with the 311th TRS for the Air Force.) and there's not enough cadre to do everything that needs an NCO to be in charge. If you're an E-5 or higher, you'll be voluntold to do things like grade PT tests, grade Common Skills Testing for the Phase Vs, be in charge of an entrance gate,(if they ever let the MPs go home) Staff-Duty NCO (E-6 and higher) Duty Driver and CQ, (E-5 and lower) helping run Field Training Exercises and Joint Language Training Exercises, which involves getting up at 0300 and not getting home until 2100 on a Saturday, and any other scut-work that they don't want to trust the IETs with.

Right now, housing is really flexible, but that's partially because of the MPs (have to house them somewhere) and partially because of the increase in students. Right now, pretty much any E-5 who can find an apartment is being authorized to move off-post. I heard a rumor that the same was true for E-4s in the Navy.

Additional Information for Sailors

(Note: This information provided by NAVYLINGUIST, a member of our Message Forum, who is a Language Instructor, currently assigned to DLI.

I am currently a Military Language Instructor at DLI, and a Chinese linguist (called CTIs or "I" Branchers in the Navy) for the Navy. I graduated the Basic Mandarin-Chinese course in 1995, and returned here as an instructor/Leading Petty Officer (LPO - a drill instructor of sorts) late last year.

First off, your language expectations. Although the Navy wants to give you something you have an interest in studying for a language, that there are also needs of the Navy to consider. The Navy does not put enlisted linguists through languages like German, French, or Japanese usually, so it is highly unlikely on an initial enlistment for this to happen. If you score above a 100 on the DLAB, expect to be put into one of the "tougher" languages like a CAT IV. Here are some languages choices you can expect, in no particular order: Chinese, Arabic, Persian-Farsi, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Spanish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian.

So how will you be assigned? Alot has to do with timing..what classes are opening up when you get here? Did you score high enough on the DLAB for those? Lastly, which ones of those are you interested in? The Navy tries not to put you on a "casual" status for too long after you get here, so they won't be putting you into a language that doesn't have a class starting for 3 months down the road after you get here.

As a single sailor, you'll be living on the Presidio of Monterey in the Navy barracks. Intially, you'll be in 2-people to a room, one floor shares a common restroom barracks. After a period of time in your studies, you'll probably be able to move to a different barracks with 2-people to a room and a bathroom in that room. Just a bit of a heads up on the living situation. Married sailors will probably live at Ft Ord, in on-base family housing (no BAH, but you receive COMRATS or BAS).

Comments about the courses in general were already made, but almost all the instructors are native and you'll certainly get a great dose of culture and history of that region/country.

All language programs at DLI are intense and fast-paced. General advice - never fall behind, study hard, make good impressions on the instructors and you'll get through here. Once you start to slip though, you may find yourself quickly behind the rest of the class and in academic trouble.

Navy Phase Restrictions

Note: The following information was provided by BK1014, a member of our Message Forum.

The Navy has Three Phases at DLI.

Phase 1: You are put in this phase the minute you arrive. Rules are as follow: No civilian clothes, and PT clothes ONLY to and from PT.

Work hours are from 0700-1600 M-F. During those hours you are pretty much restricted to the computer lab and the class room. You basically do some in processing, retake all your classes that you took in boot camp, study Basic Military Requirements (BMR), a large book that has test questions that you must complete within three weeks, and study a smaller book about the handling and destruction of classified materials, called the Mod 11.

Liberty hours: M-Th 1600-2100 on base liberty. Fri-Sun you have off base liberty. Friday you have from 1600-2200, Saturday 0700-2200, Sunday 0700-2100. You CANNOT be in ANY personally operated vehicle. Cabs and Buses and your own two feet will be the primary mode of transportation.

Phase II. Before you can phase up to Phase Two you have to complete a number of inspections. You have a sea bag inspections (making sure you have minimum stow for all items), one inspection for every uniform and three room inspections. The room inspections are unannounced. You must also complete your BMR study questions and take a test on Mod 11. Now, I've only been at DLI for three days now, but from what I here the inspections are HARDER than those in boot camp. For the first three weeks, the PT here is HARDER than the PT in boot camp. So, in order to phase up to Phase Two, you must complete the 1.5 mile run in less time than you did in boot camp. For 17-19 year olds, in 11:00. I'm not sure about the rest, but I believe you need a Good-Low run time. Until all of those are completed, you can not phase up. The quickest you can phase up is three weeks, but it can take as long as you want it to take.

Phase two has extended liberty hours, 2300 on school nights, and 0000 on weekends.

Phase three has no curfew... show up for muster and you are good to go.

Language Selection

Right now only 8 Languages are being taught (for Navy). Cat IV: Arabic, Chinese, Korean. Cat III: Persian-Farsi, Serb-Croatian, Hebrew, Russian. Cat I: Spanish. Those are your only "options" and I have not received my language yet, but I did give them my top 3 selections of Korean, Russian, and Arabic. Everybody is telling me this about my selection. Korean I probably won't get because I only have a 103 DLAB. Korean is the hardest language here, apparently it is 75 weeks long now, and they are trying to make it a Cat V language. Russian is hard to get because they don't really need too many Russian linguists anymore. Arabic, a lot of people get Arabic, and since it's in my top three, guess which language I'm probably going to get :). Arabic. But we'll see how it goes. The word on class wait time is Feb-April (4-6 months), however, word is coming down the chain of command that there will be a number of classes opening very soon and that many people will be put into classes within a month, but we'll see how it works out.

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