February 19, 2008:
The U.S. military is
refining its Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus Program, shifting the bonus
money around to different languages. One of the more interesting changes is
paying the monthly bonus only when the language is used. For example, the U.S.
Navy will now pay French speaking sailors an extra $500 a month if they are
involved in a part of the world (like Africa) where French is a common second
language. This is a contingent (on having to actually use the skill) bonus. In
the past, the bonuses were only paid for those who had passed a proficiency
exam, and spoke a language the military had few translators for. In particular,
Arabic, Pushto and Farsi (the last two are common in Afghanistan) are still in
great demand. But the old system paid the troops that $500 a month whether they
were using their language still or not.
Then the navy took a survey and found
that nearly ten percent of their active duty force and reservists
spoke two or more languages. Many of those language skills are ones, like
French and Spanish, that are not in critically short supply. But now that the
navy is doing a lot more disaster relief work (great PR, helps people in need,
and provides everyone with some useful experience), and these are often in areas
where the locals speak French or Spanish, there is a need for more translators.
The navy also has a lot of foreign born sailors, from dozens of different
countries that might, someday, be visited by the navy. The contingent bonus
program is thus an incentive for all those with good foreign language skills to
take the test. If nothing else, it shows up on your service record as another
skill, which aids promotion. And when the sailor gets out, the "Navy Certified
Linguist" looks good on a resume.