Every 2 years the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) develops a 5-year forecast of foreign language capability training needs. However, a key element of this process on determining mission requirements is not consistently followed, leading to uncertainty on the validity of the resulting analysis. By providing training on the methodology personnel should use to determine foreign language capability requirements, SOCOM would have greater assurance that its process is consistent and effective. In addition, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Marine Forces Special Operations Command have not analyzed the relevancy of assigned foreign languages during deployments to inform future training needs. By periodically monitoring and assessing relevance in the countries to which they deploy, the Commands would be able to adjust foreign language training plans accordingly.
The Army and Marine Corps Special Operations Commands have issued foreign language proficiency and training standards and provided resources and incentives to improve foreign language skills. However, GAO found that from fiscal years 2018 through 2022, most Army and Marine Corps Special Operations Forces (SOF) units did not meet foreign language proficiency goals. According to select Army and Marine Corps personnel, not meeting minimum proficiency levels has had limited consequences on service members. This is due in part to a lack of consistent procedures that specify consequences when SOF personnel do not achieve minimum foreign language proficiency standards.
Further, less than half of SOF personnel completed any foreign language training, and the average number of annual sustainment training hours completed was much less than required due primarily to competing training demands and priorities.
GAO is making four recommendations to DOD to train personnel on how to determine SOF foreign language capability requirements; monitor the relevancy of assigned languages at deployment locations; establish and enforce consistent procedures that specify consequences when foreign language proficiency standards are not met; and hold unit commanders accountable for monitoring and reporting on completion of required foreign language training. DOD agreed with GAO’s recommendations.
Special Operations Forces: Enhanced Training, Analysis, and Monitoring Could Improve Foreign Language Proficiency, Government Accountability Office, GAO-24-105849, October 2023, PDF, 50 pages. https://www.gao.gov/assets/d24105849.pdf
Image: Page 9, GAO-24-105849, source is GAO analysis of Department of Defense; Map Resources, info current as of April 2023. Click here to view a larger image SOF Language Training by Region of World.