FORT IRWIN, Calif. — On Jan. 30, as other Blackhorse Troopers were eagerly looking forward to the four-day weekend, Staff Sgt. Ninos Zayayou and Sgt. Samiulla Khan traveled to Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos to meet with the California National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division Intelligence Readiness Operations Capability team. Their visit was to conduct an after action review and capture gained insight at the conclusion of an 18-month mission.
Since September 2017, Staff Sgt. Zayayou and his five-man team of 09Ls have translated more than 735 reports that enabled the 40th ID IROC to provide accurate and timely intelligence support to Train Advise Assist Command – South in Afghanistan. The TAAC-S mission is to improve the operational effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces, with the goal of attaining self-sufficiency, while at the same time coordinating enabler support and protecting U.S. and allied forces from insurgency attacks.
The Interpreter/Translator 09L MOS is populated by native-speaking translator/interpreters. This means that 09L Soldiers are men and women who were born and raised in foreign countries and grew up speaking the language for which the U.S. Army recruited them. Not only are they proficient in multiple languages, but they also possess a holistic understanding of a countries’ culture, customs, and religion.
The reach-back translation cell’s daily duties started with receiving large quantities of material in Dari, Pashtu, Farsi, and occasionally Arabic. These materials consisted of enemy communications, social media, training manuals, intelligence products and more. The Soldiers in the translation cell then apply their language skills and cultural knowledge to compile the information for analysis by 40th ID intelligence professionals. They were responsible for thousands of pages of translated material delivered with an accuracy that is not replicable by civilian contracted translators or other army linguists according to the 40th ID analysts. Also, the translation cell was involved in the intelligence analysis process itself by providing context and rationale to particularly confusing or cryptic information. The 09L’s nuanced understanding proved particularly critical over an intense five-month period during the 2018 Afghanistan parliamentary election campaign held in the TAAC-S area of responsibility.
While Khan and his fellow language and culture subject matter experts will ensure the continued success of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, their contribution emphasizes an important capability that all Soldiers can work to improve. The Army’s ability to be ready to deploy, fight, and win decisively against any adversary, anytime, and anywhere depends on all Soldiers striving to understand the human terrain in the areas where they may one day be asked to operate.