Air Force

August 8, 2013

The flying interpreter

Airman 1st Class Saphfire Cook
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

For most Airmen, graduating from technical school means joining the operational Air Force and settling in at their first duty station. But some Airmen chart a different course. Technical Sgt. Breana Reyes, 55th Electronic Combat Group command language manager, spent her first five years after tech school flying around the world with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Reyes joined the Air Force as a flying linguist. She spent two years at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., where she became fluent in Russian.

After tech school she was headed for Offut AFB, Neb., but she heard of another opportunity.

“I found out about the DTRA initially when I was in the basic course at tech school,” Reyes said. “I was so excited. This magical agency existed where you get to use your language all the time and you get to really be an interpreter.”

Even though the agency preferred applicants to have at least four stripes, Reyes tried her luck and applied as a senior Airman.

Her risk paid off and she left for training in 2004. She went back to DLI for a year to complete the Russian Arms Speaking Proficiency course. Once that was complete, Reyes headed to Ft. Belvoir, Va., to be assigned her first mission.

“There are a lot of different treaties that involve the U.S. and Russia at DTRA,” Reyes said. “I worked in one called Open Skies.”

She became an interpreter sensor operator. Her primary duties were to fly over Russian territories and record imagery from the bottom of the aircraft.

“We flew in a special aircraft that allowed us to capture aerial imagery,” Reyes said. “Part of my job was to operate the sensor that took the photos. The other part, as an interpreter, was to handle all the negotiation, treaties and stipulations as well as air traffic control communications.”

More than 30 countries participated in Open Skies, and she could act as an interpreter for any one of them.

“There was an instance where Italy called us and said they needed someone to handle air traffic control communications for one of their missions in to Russia, so we did a joint mission with them,” Reyes said. “There were only two Americans on the aircraft, including me. Everyone else was Italian. I handled all the air traffic control flying through Moscow with an Italian crew on an Italian aircraft.”

As a young staff sergeant, Reyes traveled in civilian clothes on a diplomatic visa and said being a representative of the U.S. came with certain expectations.

“The level of responsibility that you have and the level of visibility on you is pretty crazy,” Reyes said. “At 23 years old I went to the U.S. Department of State and interpreted for bilateral negotiations.”

After three years as an interpreter sensor operator, she began traveling with DTRA.

“A lot of the opportunities at DTRA are for ground personnel, so that’s who the recruiters targeted,” Reyes said. “But Open Skies began to suffer, so I started traveling with the recruiter so that I could speak specifically to the flyers. From there personalities just gelled, and one day they asked if I wanted to be a recruiter for DTRA full time.”

She recruited from 2008 to 2011.

“The job offered so many fantastic opportunities that really all I had to do was set up shop and then wait for people to line up,” Reyes said.

The DTRA program is open to any military applicant. You do not have to be in the language field, but you must speak Russian at an appropriate level.

“I think DTRA is a great exercise in openness and transparency,” “We’re [Russia and the U.S.] two countries that for the longest time didn’t see eye-to-eye on anything and now we can come together and fly in the same aircraft while taking pictures of each other’s territories. That’s pretty phenomenal.”




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(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Racheal E. Watson)

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