Two newly acquainted Soldiers in Afghanistan were making their way through a small village when an Afghan citizen approached them. He asked the pair a question in his own language.
When one Soldier answered the man in Farsi, the other was surprised. Later, the Soldier who had been conversing with the Middle Eastern citizen explained that he was an interpreter, and translating Farsi was his military mission.
The 09L interpreter/translator military occupational specialty is a fairly new MOS in the Army. Soldiers with this MOS are primarily responsible for conducting oral and written translations between English and a foreign language. This MOS is considered critical for American troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 09L course was relocated to Fort Huachuca from Fort Jackson, S.C. in 2010 as a result of â€œlessons learnedâ€ from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, according to George Stemler, 111th Military Intelligence Brigade chief learning officer. The move was made to better align the 09L MOS training with military intelligence Soldiers, since the 09L MOS directly supports MI Soldiers in the field.
In order to become an 09L, applicants must be able to speak fluently a foreign language for which the Army needs translators. The Army is currently seeking recruits for Pashto, one of the Indo-Iranian languages spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran; Dari, the variety of Persian spoken in Afghanistan; and Farsi, the most widely spoken Persian language. Soldiers entering into the 09L MOS undergo a seven-week, three-day course on post.
Depending on their English language fluency, 09L candidates may be required to attend English language training at Fort Jackson, S.C. This happens prior to the Soldiers going through Army basic training.
While at Fort Huachuca, they learn how to interpret and translate Pashto, Dari and Farsi. They also receive cultural awareness training to better be able to interact with Middle Eastern people.
Upon graduation there are only two active duty units in the Army for 09Ls, stated Kevin Moses, 09L course committee chief. They are the 51st Translator/Interpreter Company, located at Fort Irwin, Calif. and the 52nd TICO, located at Fort Polk, La.
â€œ09Ls are used to communicate with Afghan and Iraqi personnel. These Soldiers are very critical to the successful operations in theater. The Army does not have enough time to train non-linguist personnel to the level required in those languages,â€ explained Moses.
Soldiers choose to be interpreters for a number of reasons, but most of them have a common bond â€” the desire to help.
â€œI joined the military for several reasons, one because I wanted to serve the country,â€ said Spc. Mehrdad. â€œBecause of the language I can speak, and because of my background, I thought I could be an asset and help. â€¦ My mother tongue is Turkish, but I also speak English and Farsi.
â€œ09 Limas assist other Soldiers by becoming a bridge between the native English speaker and the locals over there. We are just the tongue for interpreting whatever the commander is trying to deliver to the local people in Afghanistan; we help them achieve the mission,â€ Mehrdad added.
Spc. Sari became an 09L for a different reason.
â€œI speak Farsi, English and a little bit of Arabic. I became a 09 Lima because of the honor to be part of this Army, and I always wanted to be an interpreter.â€ she said.
â€œI heard from a couple friends that they need[ed] a Farsi translator in the military. I am National Guard, and I went into the recruiterâ€™s office. As soon as I said I speak Farsi, they grabbed my papers.â€
Spc. Wali explained why he enlisted.
â€œI speak Dari and a little bit of Pashto, which is a popular language in Afghanistan. The reason I joined is I am obviously from Afghanistan. When I came across â€¦ the Army website, they were offering this MOS, 09 Lima, and I couldnâ€™t think of anything else I could do to help out what this country has given me and, of course, the country I was born in. I want to help out â€” thatâ€™s my main goal.â€
All three Soldiers agreed the training they received was beneficial, especially the team building, the interpretation training and the opportunity they had to practice the language. They have even been teaching Soldiers in the barracks here about their cultures.
â€œDuring training the most valuable thing we learn is teamwork,â€ Mehrdad said. â€œWe speak Farsi, but we all come from different places, so we have to learn to work as a team and work with other Soldiers such as the 35Mikes (35M Human Intelligence Collectors). One of the main things of the Army is to work as a team, so it teaches us that.â€
Sari said: â€œWe assist other Soldiers. â€¦ We need to work together. We cannot work without them, and they cannot work without us. We are connected to each other. We help other Soldiers to find the enemies better. If they need Farsi language we can help them.â€
â€œThe training at AIT [advanced individual training] is very good. It has helped us to learn. I personally didnâ€™t know how the process of interpreting [worked], so it has helped me a lot to learn how to interpret.â€
â€œThe training is great,â€ Wali said. â€œItâ€™s designed in a way that I have learned so much. â€¦ Looking back to the first day and week â€¦ I have improved a lot. Now I know how to use the techniques she (Sari) mentioned earlier, even just advancing on my own language, learning a little bit more than I knew before.â€
Even here, the foreign-born Soldiers are involved in casual, cultural awareness training of their military peers.
â€œIn the barracks right now, we arenâ€™t even down range, I talk to my roommate, talk to people around me about Afghanistan, how the culture goes and the languages that they speak and the type of people we have. So they are learning right now and imagine later on when we are down range â€” that could help them in many ways. I talk to them about how everything works and the interpreting, translating part is another thing we help them with. I love what I do,â€ Wali added.
Because of the increased ability for 09Ls to interpret and interact effectively with people in the Middle East, the Army has found the MOS to be a valuable tool to have in its toolbox.
As for its future, Moses said, â€œthe Army is looking at the feasibility of expanding to other major commands, such as the PACOM [Pacific Command] and AFRICOM [Africa Command], but no official decision has been made.â€