Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California. That's where I went after Basic Training and that's where I spent just under a year learning Russian for the Army. I've got loads of fond memories from my time there. I was in Foxtrot Company. Lived and went to school "up the hill"...and the hills on DLI are no joke. They're evil.
I would (like everyone else) sneak through a hole in the fence to get to the local grocery store. Because going through the hole in the fence was much faster than going through the gate. This also meant that whenever the installation would fix the fence it didn't last long. Within weeks it would open up again, but we didn't complain. We often thought they should have just put a gate up there!
The best way to describe DLI is a weird cross between the military and college. Once we passed our inspections at 4 weeks, we had loads of freedom. Freedom that you wouldn't expect for Soldiers in training. We weren't complaining though! We went to school Monday through Friday for about 8 hours. That was our job. Go to school and learn your language. Sure we did PT in the mornings and some training in the afternoons, but usually our leaders did their best to not give us too much to do. Why? Because we usually had lots of homework. If you didn't have homework, you should be spending time studying (yeah, I'll get right on that...).
Our teachers were great. Sweet little Russian ladies (and one American gentleman) taught us. Mrs Rubenstein was in charge of the schoolhouse and you did not mess with her. We complained the whole time...who could learn this crazy language!?! I'm never going to be able to understand Cyrillic! God bless them for tolerating us! And, of course, they were right. We learned Russian just fine...most of us anyway. There were those that couldn't handle the intensity of the course and ended up being reclassed into another job, but we had a pretty big graduating class, as can be seen from the picture above. I'm on the left, in the second row. The Private First Class with the sun in my face between the two Russian ladies. The dark-haired lady to the right was my "homeroom" teacher...Mrs. Turin. She was awesome. She was sweet, and we loved her like a mom. She treated us like her kids and almost always had a smile for us.
We often times gave "code names" to our various teachers. Mrs Turin was occasionally referred to as "mom". Then there was "Lady Flip-Flop head" because one teacher always bounced her head back and forth. "The Red Dragon" because, we'll she had red hair and some people thought she was mean (I rather liked her though). "The Babbler", she well...babbled. Even though we gave them these nicknames, we were still very respectful to them. We just saw it as harmless fun.
It's easy looking back fondly at those times, but in reality it was one of the hardest things I had done at that point in my life. Sure, we had fun when we weren't in class, but you had to or you'd snap (and there were those Soldiers that snapped and had to be committed).
We didn't have Drill Sergeants at DLI when I went through for training and it was very hard to leave after having a year of freedom and heading to our next training assignment...and back to Drill Sergeants. We managed, of course, but it wasn't ideal. What is though?
Ah, well. Good memories...and I'd end up back there again within 5 years of leaving. But that's a different Thursday!