Mission Essential Conversations: SOF Experience with Linguists


The discussion was moderated Colonel Mike Kershner, US Army Special Forces (R) and panelists Colonel Andy Milburn, United States Marine Corps (R), and Colonel Dave Maxwell U.S. Army Special Forces (R).

Herndon, Virginia, June, 19, 2020 – On June 5, 2020, Mission Essential hosted a virtual panel, SOF Experience with Linguists: Understanding and Navigating the Human Domain, moderated by Colonel Mike Kershner, US Army Special Forces (R). He was joined by panelists Colonel Andy Milburn, United States Marine Corps (R), and Colonel Dave Maxwell U.S. Army Special Forces (R). The group discussed in-depth cultural intelligence, understanding the human element in linguistics, and many other topics vital to USSOCOM today. A recording of the interview was livestreamed via YouTube on June 17.

All the panel participants have extensive Special Forces backgrounds and utilized linguists often during their time in the service. Kershner, who spent more than 27 years of active service in the infantry and Special Forces, posed thoughtful questions to the panel about language, culture, linguists, the future of AI in the military, and special forces’ role in great power competition.

Milburn drew from his many years with the Marines, where he worked in infantry and Special Forces, providing many real-life examples from his tours in Iraq. He emphasized the importance of strong leadership and examining our own culture to then better understand foreign cultures. “Language and culture have implications that go far beyond simple communication. They are the difference between operating effectively and operating incompetently,” said Milburn.

Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and 30-year veteran of special forces and the Army, discussed the need for cultural understanding, cultural awareness, and cultural respect as it relates to the national security strategy.

“I really think it’s important for us not to focus on Russia and China, but to focus on the areas where we might meet – Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Europe,” said Maxwell. “To do that, we have to be culturally aware, culturally knowledgeable, and, whether we can speak a language or not, have the cultural respect that comes with developing relationships and living and working with our friends, partners, and allies.”

This panel is a part of a larger webinar series, Mission Essential Conversations: A SITREP to trending matters of language and intel affairs.

Mission Essential, founded by U.S. Army SOF veteran and current Chairman Gregory K. Miller, is a trusted partner to the Defense and Intelligence Communities, and a leading provider of language and cultural advisory services, intelligence analysis and operations support, ISR solutions and technology, and cyberspace superiority. Mission Essential executes prime contracts with numerous Intelligence Community members, as well as with the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force; U.S. Central, European, and Africa Commands; and the State Department.