Video Transcript: Well good morning. It’s a fantastic day here in Garmisch. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. I’m Les Grau, a retired lieutenant colonel, and I was a student here [The Marshall Center] and graduated in 1983. [I was] basically an infantry man and I ended up going in a scholarly direction, primarily because of the US Army Russian Institute. When I was a young Lieutenant, I was stationed in the Berlin brigade, back before I went to Vietnam. I was in school here in Oberammergau. Down the road in[from] Oberammergau [in Garmisch-Partenkirchen] was something mysterious called DET-R. Everyone said, ‘Oh DET-R you know there they’re very secret. It’s where they train spies. They do this and they do that’. Nobody seemed to know much about DET-R, except they knew how to speak Russian. I was newly married at the time and my wife was saying, ‘Oh ,wow, what a great area’. I thought someday I have to get back here and maybe this DET-R is something I ought to look into. Well, I went from Berlin to Vietnam and after Vietnam I came back to Germany and did other assignments as an infantry officer at a rather later period in my life. I was the oldest man in my class that graduated here[USARI] in ’83. In fact, one of two Vietnam vets in the class. But my personnel center called and said, ‘How would you like to be a Foreign Area Officer?’ and I said, “Yea, that would be great!” They said, “Well now, we have openings in Italian and German and Russian.” And I thought, 70 percent of the US army speaks some German at this point because of all of the troop rotations and such in here. So I already know some German, my German was better than it is right now, just a lack of practice. Italian, what am I going to do with that? But, there will always be a Soviet Union. I’m always going to have a job. So based on that piece of analysis, I came to the Russian Institute with my family and it was a wonderful experience.
And one of the first things I discovered is well it’s now the US Army Russian Institute not DET-R, but there’s nothing really classified and secret about it. It is this mythos that has been developed over the years by the soviet press, the American press, and the fact that people say, “Why do they have US army, Air force, and Navy officers studying Russian? It certainly must be a highly classified facility.” And when you looked about there wasn’t a single safe in the place that I recall because it was an academic institution, purely academic. Now in preparation for coming here, I had attended the Defence Language Institute of Monterey, California for a year to get rudimentary Russian. Then we came here to improve our Russian and to do post graduate work in Russian studies. And what a fantastic place. We came here and we started out with some rather intensive get-your-Russian-up-to-par instruction. Then we would have courses in various topics, many of them non-military. We had, I think Victorov [Grigorii Mikhailovich Viktorov] taught geography, we had culture, we had customs, we also had military subjects. Victorov, also one of my favorite instructors at the time, taught tactics, he knew them, but all of the classes were in Russian, so you were forced to focus in the Russian language for at least 6 hours a day. I’ve never believed in total immersion at a certain point in life because I think your brain sometimes need a break, but I think if you are doing six to eight hours of immersion it’s a wonderful way to learn, particularly if you can’t go into that country itself. And at times in that time there were restrictions for long term residence in the Soviet Union because of the political situation. But we studied all sorts of topics. Some of them were, well , Yanudovich [Irina Yudovich]taught this great course it was one of my favorites. It sounds absolutely boring because the topic at hand was normally boring. At the time the leader of the Soviet Union was Leonid Brezhnev, and old Leonid could give a speech that lasted not one, not two, not three, but four hours. Then, you would get the speech on the front page of Pravda and it would take (it would be in small type) and it would take up the whole page and went, maybe some spill over. We came in the first day of class and she said, “Alright, your assignment tonight is to read this speech over and tell me what’s important in it.” And we all went and read this speech. It took forever; it was horrible, it was ghastly, and at the end of it we had absolutely no idea that there was anything important in it. And this was the point of the course; is we learned to read through what, I don’t know if you are familiar with the US term “boiler plate”, but these are standard phrases that politicians put in that mean absolutely nothing, but they sound good. And so one of the things we learned to do was identify soviet boiler plate. This, “Okay you can take these three paragraphs out, just disregard them totally, and these two don’t mean anything, and somewhere right there in the middle are these three sentences that are important in this whole exercise.” And at first it sounded like an impossible thing to do. But she taught us and suddenly you could zip through a speech by Brezhnev in a matter of minutes with a cup of coffee while talking to a friend because, “No, no, no, oh wait a minute, let’s go back.” So I thought that was an extremely useful course because I do a lot of research and reading and that was a great thing to do.
But it wasn’t just book exercises; they had other opportunities. They had the drama club for those who were so inclined and they gave productions and all. Some of us were introduced reluctantly to some of the Russian classic authors, some of them embraced it with a bit more passion, but at least we knew the difference between Chekhov and Tchaikovsky when we left here. We had access to movies, not dvds and all like we have now ,but we had a good exposure and then we had good trips of various lengths into either the Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact countries for various lengths of time. I had several months which was quite helpful to me and my Russian because even despite being here and getting exposure six hours a day from Russian speakers, there’s nothing like going out on the street and buying your food and trying to find your way through the city and all.
The course lasted two years. That sounds like a long time, but for what we were learning and what we were doing, it really wasn’t enough time. A lot of the students, I came to the school with a masters degree already [so] I didn’t have to participate in the masters program, so that gave me time for other pursuits and activities and that allowed me to really develop in those areas. Garmisch changed my life. I came here an infantry officer, determined to be an infantry officer my whole career and I left here more of a scholar. I always had an academic bent but because I was an infantry officer I sort of suppressed that. I discovered, “Okay you can be a soldier-scholar and this is something.” And my career, after I left the Russian Institute, I went and after several other assignments I became a member of the Soviet Army Studies Office, which also sounds like a top secret organization but was not. It basically did open source research, reading newspapers, journals, periodicals, travelling to the Soviet Union and then writing about what they’re talking about what they’re thinking about in their professional journals with a focus, of course, on the military. The Soviet Army Studies Office disappeared with the Soviet Union, but was replaced by the Foreign Armies Study Office and I continued to work with them as a civilian and we continued to do academic work. But for me this all started here. But it wasn’t all about academics. It was also about development and improvement of the individual and the family because this is a great place for a family. My wife and I had one child. [When] he came here, he had just completed the third grade in the United States. He was a year ahead of himself, so he was always the youngest one in class. We decided to put him in German school and put him back in the third grade again so he wouldn’t have to be learning totally new material and a new language. He wasn’t happy at first, but after two years here and three years at a follow on assignment in German school, he has the gift of language as well. One of the problems with the United States is there is not a real need to speak another language as there is in Europe, and so, consequently, many citizens of the United States speak only one language and understand only one language. What an opportunity this was to develop German and Russian and to develop a deep cultural appreciation. My time here was absolutely wonderful for myself, my own development, and for what I could do to contribute to the United States Army over a long period of time. So thank you very much, Garmisch!