Tag Archives: interpreters

Outsourcing Interpreters

The Army Times has an article about contractor linguists who are expected to perform like soldiers and marines. For some reason the DOD hasn’t chosen to train enough soldiers and marines to be interpreters, even with so many years of lead time.

It’s true that it takes a long time to get proficient at Pashto or Urdu. But then, you could get really quite good in eight years time, if you were trained properly.

DOD doesn’t want to spend its money that way, though. It prefers to pay contractors.

Troops say low-skilled and disgruntled translators are putting U.S. forces at risk.

“Intelligence can save Marines’ lives and give us the advantage on the battlefield,” said Cpl. William Woodall, 26, of Dallas, who works closely with translators. “Instead of looking for quality, the companies are just pushing bodies out here, and once they’re out the door, it’s not their problem anymore.”

The company that recruits most U.S. citizen translators, Columbus, Ohio-based Mission Essential Personnel, says it’s difficult to meet the increased demand for linguists to aid the 15,000 U.S. forces being sent to southern, Pashto-speaking provinces this year as part of President Barack Obama’s increased focus on Afghanistan. Only 7,700 Pashto speakers live in the U.S., according to the 2000 census.

How translators come to believe they won’t face danger could originate with recruiters.

“They’re going to tell you whatever it is to get you hired,” Spangler said.

Khalid Nazary, an Afghan-American citizen living in Kabul, called Mission Essential about a job and let an AP reporter listen.

He asked if he would go to “dangerous places.”

“Oh, no, no, no. You’re not a soldier. You’re not a soldier. Not at all,” the recruiter, Tekelia Barnett, said. “You’re not on the battlefield.”

The Afghan-American asked repeatedly if he would be sent on battlefield missions. Barnett said he would translate for soldiers at schools, mosques or hospitals. After being pressed on the point, Barnett said the linguist would be subject to “any” assignment, and if he didn’t want the task he could quit.

“They say you’ll get a shower once a day, have access to Internet and TV, call home six times a week,” Woodall said. “And when the guys get out, they’re completely shell-shocked. They’ve been lied to.”

Habib, the translator who spoke to the AP while carrying a heavy pack in the stifling heat, said a Mission Essential recruiter originally told him that if he passed his language test, he would work out of the main U.S. base at Bagram about 30 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

“That’s what she promised me over the phone. That was attractive to me, and it was safe,” Habib said.

Once in Afghanistan, he says he was told he would lose his job if he didn’t go with the Marines to Helmand.

“It’s been very hard, very hard, physically,” said Habib, a Pashto-speaking U.S. citizen born in Pakistan who says he signed up because he wanted to serve his country.

Millions of dollars are involved. Known as Category II translators — U.S. citizens who obtain a security clearance — such linguists earn a salary that starts at $210,000 a year.

If the individual interpreters are making over 200K a year, what kind of money is the DOD paying the contracting agencies? The mind wobbles.

I wonder how much of this is due to the mindset that accurate machine translation is just around the corner or already exists. Or how much is due to the perception that DLI translators just turn out to be gay, anyway, and have to be discharged from the service.

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Seriously?! Iraqi Hero Denied Visa

For some reason only Fox News has this story, which is the reason I’m linking to a Fox News story instead of a historically more reputable source.

An Iraqi translator who has earned commendations for risking his life repeatedly to save the lives of many American soldiers in combat has been denied a visa to live in the United States because of nonviolent actions he took to overthrow Saddam Hussein — at the same time the U.S. government was calling for regime change in Iraq.

Because Iraqi translators are seen by jihadists and former Baathists as “traitors,” Jasim’s life is at greater risk the longer he stays in Iraq, according to multiple State Department and U.S. military officials. A number of translators and their families have already been tortured and/or murdered.

Jasim said his stepbrother, in fact, was captured in the fall of 2007 and was tortured to death in an effort to get to him. The U.S. Army officer who received and processed the report on the murder, Major Leslie Parks, told FOXNews.com that Jasim’s stepbrother was tortured with an electric drill through his eyes.

The State Department, meanwhile, has told Jasim that he must wait three more years before he can apply for a waiver of its visa rejection.

During his three years as a translator, Jasim has exposed himself to enemy fire in the course of saving American lives. Three different Americans who served with him in Iraq told FOXNews.com that they are alive today because of Jasim.

“The only reason I am here today is because of Jasim,” said Elisabeth Keene, a U.S. Army specialist who serves in a combat unit. “He saved the life of everyone in my unit.

“On several occasions while our guys were putting rounds down range, Jasim put himself in harm’s way to pull the wounded out and treat them,” Keene said. “Jasim is a hero to everyone he has ever met.”

“I owe my life to Jasim … hands down,” said Master Sgt. Jason Krieger, who went on over 200 combat patrols with Jasim. “I consider him a brother, not only in arms, but in love as well.”

Jasim even received letters of recommendation from a couple of two-star generals. It is unusual for a translator’s visa application to be endorsed even by one general.

Some of Jasim’s supporters believe the State Department has ulterior motives for denying the visa. “When all the other agencies, including DHS, give their stamp of approval, I have a hard time believing that there is a generous explanation for this decision,” says Maj. Leslie Parks, who served in Iraq coordinating outreach to local Iraqi civilian and government officials.

Parks, who worked with Jasim and estimates that the translator has gone on 1,300 combat patrols, believes the State Department may be singling out Jasim for being a “nuisance.”

“Jasim’s been high-profile for a while, starting with being featured on 60 Minutes in early 2007 (as ‘Timmy,’ his previous cover name) about translators who weren’t getting the visas, despite their lives being threatened,” Parks said.

“He’s also been a whistleblower on a few occasions, exposing potentially embarrassing information regarding the Embassy and other U.S. and Iraqi government agencies operating in the Green Zone.”

Starting a few months ago, Jasim organized his fellow translators to oppose a provision negotiated by the State Department to hand over the names and personal information of all translators to the Iraqi government. Translators feared that their lives would be at risk if their identities were learned by Iraqis who view them as “traitors.”

For now, Jasim continues his work with U.S. forces, hoping that the country he has served loyally for the past three years will welcome him, his new wife and their baby. Asked if he regrets his decision to support the U.S., he replied, “No, I’m proud of what I’ve done. I have to do what is right.”

So this is what’s coming out of our gargantuan embassy in Baghdad? I hope our new Secretary of State’s regime can get this mess cleaned up pronto.

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Filed under arab, outrages, War in Iraq

Great News, Everyone

The stupid, wrongheaded, moronic decision that Iraqi interpreters would not be allowed to wear face masks has been rescinded!


It is sad that I feel such triumph over what should have been a no-brainer. Hooray for common sense winning one battle!

Some 300 interpreters have been killed during the war in Iraq, and they are seen as a crucial link between the US forces and Iraqi communities trying to recover from the years of violence.

“It would have been tough to get where we are today without our interpreters,” said the regiment commander, Colonel Monty Willoughby.

“We know that they get spooked and scared, and we try to protect their identity as much as possible.”

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Filed under arab, arabic, War in Iraq

Iraqi Interpreters Face Life-or-Death Choice

Either stop helping the US military, or stop wearing the face mask that hides your identity so that militias don’t kill you and your family.

US military tells the Iraqi interpreters who have risked their lives for years to help us: “Don’t want to risk your life? Waaah. Who needs you, anyway?” Or as they say in Arabic, الباب يوسع جمل.

But on the bright side, the military will probably revisit the decision if too many terps get killed. It’s anybody’s guess what they’ll consider “too many.”

Here are two really good blog posts about this story:

At Vet Voice, a project of Vote Vets, and LT Nixon Rants.

The original Washington Post article is here.

And the comments are here.

I haven’t read them all yet, but so far nobody thinks the US military’s new policy is a good one.

Read the two blog posts. The second one is even funny.
Update: VetVoice has a new post up, Backlash Builds Over New Iraqi Interpreter/Mask Policy.

Some quotes from this article and some that were included in the article:

Despite the fact that Donald Rumsfeld called service members “fungible” in 2004, they’re not. And while Lt. Col. Stover obviously doesn’t realize it, the same goes for translators. And I’m not the only one who sees it this way. The reaction across print media and in the military blogosphere has been swift and one-sided.

I’m sorry, LTC Stover, but this is stupidity and callousness posing as rectitude. For years, Iraqis working with American units were allowed to hide their faces so that they could keep their heads on their necks. The new order has already led to firings and a significant number of resignations, as well as desperate measures–one interpreter smearing his face with mascara, another hoping that a new beard will keep his identity secret. This is the kind of order that headquarters dreams up and combat troops detest.
Exactly what code of conduct is being maintained here? Iraqis aren’t in the American chain of command. They don’t take an oath; they don’t fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If they did, they would be given regulation uniforms. They wouldn’t be allowed to use aliases. They would be housed on bases rather than obliged to make the dangerous trip home every night. They would receive pensions, health insurance, and death benefits. When one of them gets killed, the military would hold a ceremony. The widow would receive a flag. A grateful nation would remember.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or. and others, including Oregon’s own Checkpoint One Foundation, a nonprofit, are protesting the Army’s unconscionable new policy. Here’s hoping that the outcry is loud enough to cause somebody with an ounce of compassion to slap his forehead and reverse the ban on letting Iraqis use a few inches of fabric to protect their identities.

In a war that offers few clear choices, this seems like a nonsensical policy that appears to only endanger those Iraqis that have actually chosen to help us. There is no reason to add to the “nearly 300 interpreters” slain since 2003 in Iraq. The truth is that despite the improving security situation the country remains a very violent place to live and work, and it will remain so for years to come even after the current withdrawal deadline of 2011.

I haven’t been there in a long time, but when I was, our interpreters weren’t there to simply translate words from Arabic to English: They were the best intelligence gatherers in the battalion; they were deal makers between us and the local community; they cultivated relationships; and sometimes they even provided input during mission planning. And when you’re in middle of an insurgency, having a local like this on your side can, indeed, make the difference between mission success and mission failure.

I also made this clear: If my Company or BN CO had told me to issue this order to my terps in 2004, I would have come out of it a Private E-Zero. I will not issue any order that puts them in danger, therefore putting my American colleagues in danger. This is the stupidest, dumbest, most idiotic thing I’ve seen in years.

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Filed under arab, arabic, language, translation, War in Iraq