Veteran Status: Part III, Defense Language Institute
A Five-Part Series on My Life in the Army
Private First Class Krzycki, Lisa A.
United States Army Signals Intelligence Analyst – 98C1L00CM
Presidio of Monterey, California
March, 1990- March, 1991
During AIT, recruiters came around and asked if anyone wanted to sit for the DLAB. (“The Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) is a test used by the United States Department of Defense to test an individual’s potential for learning a foreign language. It is used to determine who may pursue training as a military linguist.” – Wikipedia) Karen and I took the test together to get out of class for the day. Truth.
We both scored very well and were offered entry into the prestigious Defense Language Institute (DLI, aka Presidio) to study Chinese or Korean. Despite having to tack on another year to my original enlistment, I said yes for two reasons: Stuart, my fiance, was already there to study German and if Karen, my best friend, also said yes, we too could remain stationed together. I chose Chinese because if you chose Korean you were going to be stationed in Korea. Everyone I met who worked in Korea came back divorced and/or an alcoholic. No one spoke highly of the experience. If you chose Chinese you’d get stationed along the US West Coast, the National Security Agency or Hawaii. So yes to Chinese.
After graduating AIT and now MOS-qualified, that is, no longer a trainee, I shipped off to California.
Class was full-immersion Mandarin for an entire year. While we learned to write and read short-form characters, our focus was on translation. People often ask if I could read a newspaper and I say “What’s a newspaper?” I could not. I could read a children’s book maybe, but I definitely could understand a native speaker and carry on a dialogue. Today, 23 years later, I could speak with a child, but not one older than the age of three.
Unlike my Signals Intelligence Analyst course, Mandarin came easy and I did not have to commit many hours outside of the classroom to succeed. I will own this however – I could have excelled had I worked harder. But as is the running theme of my military career, there was too much fun to be had. I was 20. I frequently went to the Officers Club like this:
Back to class:
Once classes started, people began “rocking out” left and right – they failed – and were released from training and deployed to their active duty station. Stuart was one such casualty. An attempt at a long-distance engagement was short-lived, and by the time I visited him at Field Station Kunia, Hawaii, it was already over. All for the best.
Karen and I pushed through and my scrapbook reminds me of the all the time we spent off-base; trips to Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Carmel and even a class trip to the Pinnacles. Here’s what never got pressed between the pages:
- Reaching Physical Training Exempt status due to my high fitness test scores while simultaneously being counseled for being overweight. I ask that you return to the photos above and shake your head along with me.
- Puppy-sitting for a friend’s basset hound in their apartment and how that tiny dog kept tripping over its gigantic ears. Looking for sugar to put in my drink and finding only sweet-n-low “because powder dissolves better than sugar in iced tea.” Southerners.
- Buying a boyfriend a Glo-worm after telling me how he loved one as a child and him crying when opening the gift. Him later taking me to Las Vegas and me being amazed at the outside of every building because I was 20 and not allowed inside anywhere.
- Wearing my high school prom dress to Lori and Scott’s wedding and hoping the very best for my friend (and they have it, four kids and 20+ years later).
- My dull, plain, distant roommate who inexplicably had the hottest boyfriend on post. Whatever.
- Motorcycle rides along the Pacific Coast Highway.
- Desert Shield making it official: I became a veteran.
- Clam chowder in a clam bowl at Old Fisherman’s Grotto on the wharf.
- Constantly dissing all the other Category V languages for being easier than Chinese (Modern Standard Arabic, Pashto, Japanese, and Korean). Battle Nerd.
- That blonde girl who bent over to pick something up with a q-tip still in her ear and had to be rushed to the ER.
- Wearing a red bra to PT (physical training) and being able to see it under my Army gray t-shirt while doing push-ups. This is not my own memory but someone else’s who felt the need to share it with me on graduation day. I live to serve, douchebag.
It was an honor and privilege to study at the Presidio and live in Monterrey, California. A unique experience that pushed my resume to the top of the pile for every job I’ve ever had, even when that job had nothing to do with speaking Chinese, which was every job. I’ll forever be grateful for and proud of my service at the Defense Language Institute.