The Defense Language Institute traces its roots to the eve of America’s entry into World War II, when the U.S. Army established a secret school at the Presidio of San Francisco to teach the Japanese language. Classes began November 1, 1941, with four instructors and 60 students in an abandoned airplane hangar at Crissy Field. The students were mostly second-generation Japanese-Americans (Nisei) from the West Coast. Nisei Hall is named in honor of these earliest students, whose heroism is portrayed in the Institute’s Yankee Samurai exhibit. The headquarters building and academic library bear the names of our first commandant, Colonel Kai E. Rasmussen, and the director of academic training, John F.
In 1946 the school moved to the historic Presidio of Monterey. By that time little remained of the original Spanish presidio, which had been established in 1770 to protect the San Carlos Borromeo Mission in Carmel. The city of Monterey had grown up near the mission and presidio to become the capital of the Spanish (later Mexican) province of Alta California. Commodore Sloat captured the town during the War with Mexico in 1846. Following the Spanish-American War the U.S. Army rebuilt the post, beginning in 1902, and after World War I it became the home of the 11th Cavalry. Nobel laureate John Steinbeck captures the spirit of Monterey during this period in his novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945).
At the Presidio of Monterey, the renamed Army Language School expanded rapidly in 1947-48 to meet the requirements of America’s global commitments during the Cold War. Instructors, including native speakers of more than thirty languages and dialects, were recruited from all over the world. Russian became the largest language program, followed by Chinese, Korean, and German. After the Korean War (1950-53), the school developed a national reputation for excellence in foreign language education. The Army Language School led the way with the audio-lingual method and the application of educational technology such as the language laboratory.
The U.S. Air Force met most of its foreign language education requirements in the 1950s through contract programs at universities such as Yale, Cornell, Indiana, and Syracuse. The U.S. Navy taught foreign languages at the Naval Intelligence School in Washington, D.C. In 1963, to promote efficiency and economy, these programs were consolidated into the Defense Foreign Language Program. A new headquarters, the Defense Language Institute
(DLI), was established in Washington, D.C., and the former Army Language School commandant, Colonel James L. Collins, Jr., became the Institute’s first director. The Army Language School became the DLI West Coast Branch, and the foreign language department at the Naval Intelligence School became the DLI East Coast Branch. The contract programs were gradually phased out. The DLI also took over the English Language School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, which became the DLI English Language Center
During the peak of American involvement in Vietnam (1965-73), the DLI stepped up the pace of language education. While regular language education continued unabated, more than 20,000 service personnel studied Vietnamese through the DLI’s programs, many taking a special eight-week military adviser “survival” course. From 1966 to 1973, the Institute also operated a Vietnamese branch using contract instructors at Biggs Air Force Base near Fort Bliss, Texas
(DLI Support Command, later renamed the DLI Southwest Branch). Four hundred and fifteen DLI graduates gave their lives during the war. Four student dormitories today bear the names of graduates who died in that conflict: Chief Petty Officer Frank W. Bomar († 1970), Sergeant First Class Alfred H. Combs († 1965), Marine Gunnery Sergeant George P. Kendall, Jr. († 1968), and Staff Sergeant Herbert Smith, Jr. († 1965).
In the 1970s, the Institute’s headquarters and all resident language education were consolidated at the West Coast Branch and renamed the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center
(DLIFLC). (The Institute continues to operate a small contract foreign language education program in Washington, D.C.) With the advent of the All-Volunteer Forces and the opening of most specialties to women, the character of the student population gradually changed. In 1973, the newly formed U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command
(TRADOC) assumed administrative control, and in 1976, all English language-training operations were returned to the U.S. Air Force, which operates DLIELC to this day.
In recent years, the Institute has taken on challenging new missions, including support for arms control treaty verification, the War on Drugs, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Restore Hope, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle. In the spring of 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission rejected suggestions that the Institute be moved or closed, and recommended that its mission be continued at the present location. An agreement with Monterey Peninsula College was signed in early 1994, allowing as many as 30 credit hours earned in any of the DLIFLC’s Basic Programs to be counted toward an Associate of Arts degree. In October 2001, the United States Congress gave the DLIFLC federal authority to grant an Associate of Arts in foreign language degree. DLIFLC first awarded AA degrees in May 2002.
The DLIFLC has established itself as a national pacesetter in foreign language education, resident and nonresident, using cutting-edge educational technology such as computers, interactive video, and video teletraining to educate and support military linguists. In the years ahead, the Institute will continue to provide top-quality language instruction to support critical national requirements.
phone numbers: Commercial (831)-242-5000 or
address: Defense Language Institute Foreign
Language Center, Presidio of Monterey, CA 93944-5006
127 active duty; 3,284 students; 1,590 civilians
officer family units; 1,300 enlisted family units; six
single service member units; wait up to 120days
(831)-656-2321 or (800)334-9168
Support Center: (888)607-0001
and middle school on post operated by Monterey Peninsula
Unified School District
Care: Two centers; 10 approved homes
care: Clinic. Appointments
(831)242-5234/5663; benefits (831)242-7561; Tricare
Presidio of Monterey, CA
large size commissary - (831)242-7670,
a small exchange, and a mall (899)-2336. Recreation at Presidio of Monterey, CA
includes library, auto hobby,r ecreation center, theater,
golf, gym, tennis, swimming, and outdoor activities.