New Program Recruits Native Speakers into Army Guard
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2005 A new Army National Guard program is helping attract young people with native language skills and cultural expertise into the military to support the global war on terror.
The new program focuses on recruiting native speakers in 20 languages and dialects, most spoken in the Middle East, into the Army's 09L "translator aid" career field, Army Capt. Bill Greer, national program manager, said during an interview today with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
The active Army began seeking out native Middle Eastern recruits two years ago to help support the war on terror, but tapped into the Army National Guard earlier this year to take advantage of its community contacts and relationships, Greer said.
The Guard program is currently a pilot in Michigan, Texas and California, areas of the United States with large Arab-American populations, but is expected to expand to more states later this year, Greer said.
So far, it's recruited about 15 members, most of them with prior military experience, said Greer, who hopes to recruit about 50 by the program's first anniversary.
Soldiers with native language abilities bring special capabilities to the force that can't be easily replicated in traditional language programs, Greer explained. Native speakers bring an inherent understanding of local culture, customs, courtesies, taboos and body language that isn't readily absorbed in classroom settings, he said.
And because members of the program have gone through basic training and advanced individual training, they bring an understanding of the military that simply isn't offered by contract linguists, he said.
As a result, Greer said, soldiers in the translator aid career field "gain an immediate respect and immediate trust" by commanders on the ground. "The feedback is amazing from commanders on the ground," he said.
And the soldiers the troops work with -- not only as translators, but also as interpreters and instructors in Middle Eastern culture -- quickly develop rapport with the translator aids. "The soldiers trust them because they've experienced what our soldiers have, and that carries a lot of weight," Greer said.
Army Spc. Youssef Mandour, a native of Morocco who enlisted in the Army in 2003 as one of the first recruits in the active-Army program, said it gives Arab-Americans a unique opportunity to serve their country while helping their native lands.
"It's a chance to pay back America for all the good things I have," said Mandour, now a member of the Texas National Guard on a detail at the National Guard Bureau here, where he's sharing his expertise in Arabic culture and language and supporting the recruiting effort.
Mandour said he was driven to join the Army out of a sense of patriotism and love for the United States. "This is our country and our time to prove that Arab-Americans are part of this country," he said.
Although he expected to experience some discrimination as an Arab-American within the ranks, Mandour said, he was impressed by how quickly his fellow soldiers accepted him as one of them.
While deployed to Iraq with the 13th Corps Support Command, Mandour said, he felt proud to play a role in the reconstruction efforts he and his fellow soldiers were supporting: helping to build or rebuild schools, hospitals, roads and Internet cafes, and bringing electricity and clean water to citizens who'd never had it.
"We were doing an awesome job over there," he said.
One of his greatest contributions, he said, was helping train officers in the new Iraqi army and providing the bridge that helped the Iraqis and their American counterparts work closely together. "My experience with those guys was terrific," Mandour said.
On a personal note, Mandour called joining the Army "the best thing that's happened to me in my life" and said he's impressed by the opportunities and standard of living the military provides. With his sights on the future, Mandour said he hopes to climb the ranks to become the first sergeant major in the translator aid career field.
But for now, Mandour said he is anxious to help his career field grow and to share word of the opportunities the military provides with his fellow Arab-Americans.
"This program is going to make a lot of difference in your life," he says to potential recruits. "You can be a part of this great force (and part of) a great future for the Arab-American community."