Face of Defense: Translator Assists Iraqis, Soldiers
By Army Spc. Justin Snyder
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Oct. 27, 2008 Army Spc. Wilson Alnar does a lot of talking. That’s because he’s a translator with the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.
U.S. Army Spc. Wilson Alnar, an Arabic translator with the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office and a native of Sudan, speaks with an Iraqi policeman while on a mission in Kut, Iraq, Oct. 3, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Tommy Spagel
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It’s my job to be that bridge between the Iraqi people and the coalition forces,” said Alnar, an Atlanta resident and native of Sudan who speaks Arabic fluently.
When the Army first arrived in Iraq in 2003, the communication barrier between Iraqis and soldiers was a big issue. In February 2003, the Army Reserve came up with a positive solution with adaptation of the “translator aide” military occupational specialty. Native speakers of Arabic, Dari and Pashto were recruited and inserted into the Individual Ready Reserve. In 2005, a report was submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and then in February 2006, the program became official and was expanded to all components of the Army.
Soldiers in this specialty read, write and understand foreign languages, and they interpret for troops operating on the streets of foreign countries. Alnar, who had been working as a custodian at an Atlanta school since 2002, learned of the program after talking with a friend who was serving in the Army.
“One of my friends deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an interpreter. When he came back in 2006, he started telling me how great it was and about the opportunities I would have,” Alnar said. “I already spoke Arabic, so it seemed like the perfect job. It was my chance to do my part for the country and the Army.”
But first, he had to convince his wife that it was a good idea.
“She was not too enthused with the idea of me in the Army,” Alnar said. “It took a while, but eventually she gave in. Now she, along with my daughter, are very proud and supportive.”
Alnar joined the Army in 2006, and after basic training, he took a six-week advanced individual training course at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Although he was already fluent in Arabic, the official language of Sudan, the dialect in his native country is slightly different from Iraq’s. The course allowed him to brush up on his knowledge and skills about Iraq by learning more about the culture and practicing with Iraqi dialect.
“The Arabic language is one of the hardest languages there is to master,” Alnar said. “It took me almost 18 years, compared to the four to five years with English, to really become fluent.
“It’s just like in the United States“ he continued, “where people in the south speak a little differently than the people in the north. The dialect was a little different than what I was used to in Sudan, but I caught on quickly.”
Deployed to Iraq since early August, Alnar now finds himself using his language skills to help in the war on terrorism and the rebuilding efforts here.
When he’s not putting his interpretation skills to use in the field, he translates documents from Arabic to English and serves as an advisor to his fellow soldiers, teaching them about the Arab culture. He also assembles reports of Web site and news station monitoring to help inform the command of reports by the Iraqi media.
However, he said, he doesn’t feel that any one of these jobs is his most important responsibility.
“First and foremost, I’m a soldier,” Alnar said. “I do a lot of things, but I’m still trained as a soldier, and I need to be ready at all times.”
Alnar said he hopes to go to college when he redeploys next year, but not before he leaves his mark in this country.
“I have a very important job, because good communication is needed,” he said. “I want to do well so I can help the soldiers accomplish their mission and also help the Iraqis get their needs across. I’m gaining more experience every day, and I’m looking forward to a long career in the Army.”
(Army Spc. Justin Snyder serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)