It was standing room only, at Fort Irwin’s Sandy Basin Community Center, as the National Training Center’s military and civilian community held its first annual Middle Eastern and North African heritage celebration, Aug. 14.
“It’s the birthplace of many of the religions that we all celebrate today,” said Lt. Col. Scott McFarland, Regimental Support Squadron commander, in introducing the noontime program. “It also remains strategically important, politically and militarily, to countries around the world, including our own.”
McFarland noted that many MENA Soldiers are assigned to his squadron, as members of the Army’s first translator interpreter company, the 51st Translator Interpreter Company, established here in 2008.
The celebration included short video interviews of several TICO Soldiers and a civilian employee from the region and remarks by 1st Lt. Katherine J. Ly, commander of 51st TICO.
Ly noted the unique capabilities of her company of about 150 Soldiers, who speak more than 29 different dialects and sub-dialects of the Middle Eastern and North African region, most of which are not tested by the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., the Department of Defense’s premiere language training school.
Soldiers of the 51st TICO provide skill sets beyond what a normal linguist can perform, Ly said.
“If you go into a key leader engagement with educated, high-ranking officials, chances are the majority of them will not be using ‘elementary level’ terminology…I am sure foreign dignitaries will have confused and somewhat agitated expressions on their faces, when you ask them, ‘Can you explain that again in simpler terms?’” Ly said.
While Army units hire local interpreters during overseas contingency operations, Ly said her company’s Soldiers are unique.
“When a unit comes under fire, what kind of tasks can a local national perform? Can they fire back? Can they properly describe distance and direction? Can they send up a Salute Report? And most importantly, can they provide tactical combat casualty care?” Ly said. “…the vast majority of them still have immediate family living in these combat zones and hostile areas, yet they still vow to serve in our Army to valiantly assist us in our efforts downrange…words cannot describe the appreciation BCT [brigade combat team] commanders have for their valor. Others in theater never cease to express to me the two words that truly illustrate their duties: ‘force multiplier.’”
In a video interview, a 51st TICO Soldier of Armenian background said he was from a large Armenian community in Iran and speaks Armenian and Farsi. He explained that in addition to knowing a host-nation language, understanding the culture is very valuable.
Fort Irwin’s director of public works, Muhammad Bari, noted his roots go back to Pakistan, but “the best part of living in this country is you are accepted for your professionalism.”
“If you will work with others and respect them, they are likely to respect you,” Bari said. “It’s like a flower basket with different kinds of flowers with different fragrances. Every flower has its place that all can enjoy, if everyone does their work.”