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New Army Program for High-Demand Linguists Producing Results

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2005 – A new Army military occupational specialty, 09L, is the latest weapon in the nation's arsenal in the global war on terror -- and it's working, Army officials said April 20.

The L stands for linguist, and the program is designed to find and recruit native speakers of various high-demand languages and dialects for service in the U.S. Army. Thus far, 77 new recruits have been trained and mobilized. All are serving in the U.S. Central Command theater of operations -- a requirement they were made aware of upfront -- and the results have been just what commanders hoped.

"We are really pleased with how this program has been going," said Naomi Verdugo, a recruiting and retention official with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. "We are getting some amazing feedback from the field that these soldiers have served in very high-level situations, and that makes me very proud."

Program Director Army Lt. Col. Frank Demith said he hopes to recruit 250 soldiers for the new occupational specialty in 2005. "The ultimate objective is to reach a steady state of 700," he said. "It will take us a few years to get there."

The 09L program began in February 2003 when the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs was tasked with recruiting native speakers to assist U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan with interpretations, translations, cultural familiarity and an understanding of the nuances of body language. The three languages most needed were Dari and Pashto, the two most prevalent languages spoken in Afghanistan, and Arabic.

Individuals in this program are recruited directly into the Individual Ready Reserve for a period of eight years, officials said. Within the IRR, they can be mobilized for various tours and assignments. "The flexibility aspect makes the IRR the ideal place for the 09Ls during this pilot phase of the program," an Army spokeswoman said.

Officials noted recruits do not need to be U.S. citizens, but they must have a "green card," which gives immigrants official lawful permanent residency status in the United States. Once in the military, they are eligible for expedited U.S. citizenship.

"Bringing native speakers into the Individual Ready Reserve was a new initiative for us, and one that was very much needed," Demith said. "We started to recruit the first speakers in August 2003 and have been very successful in finding native speakers of all dialects of Arabic, Dari and (Pashto).

"These are people who speak languages that we very much need, and we are very pleased with how the program has gone so far. Plus, they also provide us with cultural knowledge that sometimes American speakers of those languages don't have," he said.

"When you meet these people, you are so impressed because they are coming in for reasons of patriotism," Verdugo said.

"Many were abused by Saddam Hussein. We have one Kurdish soldier who was gassed by Saddam, and some have lost family members at the hands of tyrants overseas. So they have a very patriotic motivation for coming into the Army. They are grateful for this country and want to pay back," she said.

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