03/03/08 — WCC's new course will bring local Arabic training to military personnel

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WCC's new course will bring local Arabic training to military personnel

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 3, 2008 1:45 PM

Carlos Cotto wants military personnel to have all the advantages they can when they head overseas.

And the director of the workforce preparedness program at Wayne Community College said staying safe might depend, in part, on being able to navigate the language barrier.

So, this year, the college will be offering a class in Arabic.

This is not Cotto's first effort to better prepare workers to handle the challenges of dealing with those who do not speak English.

The course, Spanish for Correctional Staff, offered personnel the chance to learn clues that could help them if they were faced with a dangerous situation, Cotto said.

"If you're in a threatening area, you have to be aware of your surroundings (or) you're going to be a constant target," he said. "If you know some alert words that can trigger safety, you can save your life or other's lives."

The same holds true for traveling to other countries, something inherent to military personnel.

All the combat training in the world is only effective if soldiers know how to understand and communicate the native tongue -- and that knowledge can be an advantage if you are trying to build bridges, Cotto said.

"When you go off base, you can do the diplomatic relation with stores and in the community," he said. "But once they see that you're taking time to learn their language, they're more receptive to you as an individual."

It just made sense for the community college to respond to the need, offering a class in Arabic to those being deployed to that part of the world.

"I had an airman on base asking for the class, (who was) tired of driving all the way to Fayetteville to take one," he said.

When Cotto advertised for a teacher, it would turn out to be someone who was likewise tired of making the drive to lead such a class.

Farid Awad, a second lieutenant in the Air Force Reserves, lives in Goldsboro with his wife and works as a chaplain educating military on customs and courtesies in the Middle East as they relate to deployment. A native Egyptian, he has a solid foundation in the Arabic language and culture, Cotto said.

He is also well-educated, holding three master's degrees and currently pursuing a doctorate from Liberty University Theological Seminary, with a concentration in counseling.

At the outset, the Arabic Immersion Class will be primarily geared to base personnel, Cotto said. It will center around the language, customs and courtesies of that region.

"Right now, we will be focusing on targeting military members on base, trying to go through the deployment readiness officer," he said. As each deployment date is announced, classes can be structured around them.

Classes are expected to start as early as this month, with the goal to offer four-hour sessions each week for 12 weeks. The focus will be on language, both written and oral, so the student will better understand the "swirls and curves" Arabic features.

Ideally, Cotto said he would like to see the class grow to the point of being able to be offered at other bases.

"I think the class will be one that will start running from the get-go," he said.

For now, though, it is a matter of creating a solid foundation of safety.

"It's a win-win situation. It's for the individual himself, for the overall safety of the Air Force member," he said. "We really do need this. ... When you're in an area that nobody knows anything, if you're going to be that American that is out and about, you have to be able to defend yourself as an individual. I'm a linguist myself. I feel good wherever I go if I know the language."

Cotto said he is pleased that Arabic will be part of the continuing education program at Wayne Community.

"It's my job to analyze the community and see what's best for them," he said. "I have always wanted to have this program but I was really very cautious because this is a highly visible base when it comes to possible terrorist attack or damage. I don't want to be that bridge that carries any damage. But (Awad) has a military background so already has clearance. I feel really comfortable."

For more information on the Arabic class or the continuing ed program, contact Cotto at 735-5151.