January 8, 2013
While they might not be the first Soldiers mentioned when discussing Army deployments, cryptologic linguists play a vital role whether at home or abroad.
Thanks to their years of specialized language training, these individuals are able to support the warfighter through translation, transcription, reporting and analysis of materials with national security ramifications.
In order to accomplish this challenging mission, cryptologic linguists must commit to intense and constant training to maintain and improve these important skills.
The 706th Military Intelligence Group uses a large number of cryptologic linguists to support its multifaceted, 24/7 mission. These linguists are a key in providing forward deployed warfighters the critical intelligence they need on the battlefield.
With an around the clock mission, things run differently at the 706th MI Group than what is commonly found in the rest of the Army.
"In my division we have two shifts," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric M. Murray, a Pashto linguist and division training noncommissioned officer at the 706th MI Group. "You come in in the morning and the outgoing shift updates the incoming on what happened during the night. If you are a shift leader, you find out what to look for that day. The linguists go through thousands and thousands of intercepted communications all day trying to find information that will help the customer the group is supporting."
Before his assignment with the 706th MI Group, Murray deployed to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division.
"Here you are doing the intelligence mission, the linguistic mission, every day," said Murray. "When I was at Fort Drum, for the first year prior to deployment we never used it. Language takes a back seat to everyday tasks. Here language is priority one. Language and the intelligence work is what we are doing every day."
When new Soldiers like Spc. James B. Warning, an Arabic linguist who is proficient in Iraqi and Yemeni dialects, arrive at the 706th MI Group, they are required to go though prerequisite training before they can start working the mission.
These Soldiers spend their days learning the tools and methods necessary to become an operational member of the unit. As part of this training, Warning was even able to participate in an immersion training trip to Jordan to reinforce his language skills.
"They told us to go out and explore Jordan a little bit," he said. "It was pretty open-ended. We went around to the various sites they had in the country and asked the locals about them. There were quite a few chances to use Arabic."
As Warning soon learned, these types of trips provide interesting challenges to new linguists.
"It was the little things, like having to find a gas station where they would take a credit card," he said. "Also finding where anything was, such as finding where this nature reserve was that didn't have any signage up for it. We couldn't find anything telling us how to get there and we had to stop at various places and ask where it was. Usually people were pretty enthusiastic. They want to try and talk to you in Arabic. People are always enthusiastic when you try to talk to them in their language."
One reason for immersion training is that it allows linguists the chance to learn how people communicate on a normal day-to-day basis. Dialects are important because there are differences between how a language is spoken based on what geographic area it is used in.
Murray echoed those sentiments about the importance of dialect training.
"You can be told all day about what it is like over there, but when you get there and you actually see the culture, it makes a lot more sense," said Murray. "You pick up on things that you can't get out of a book."
Immersion training is associated with another aspect of the ongoing language training at the 706th MI Group -- mentoring.
"The mentorship program is designed to show linguists what they have to do to improve their rating," said Murray. "If I have a sub-proficient linguist, as a mentor I am going to develop what I think is going to help this Soldier take their DLPT (Defense Language Proficiency Test) score and raise it to the next level. When their test scores go up, there are more opportunities. We use those immersion training trips as incentives a lot of times."
Murray said the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command excels at the language training they offer to Soldiers. He believes there isn't another place in the Army linguists get this level of language training.
The 706th MI Group is a challenging and rewarding unit for linguists to work at. They enjoy having a constant and impactful reason to use their language training.
"I like that I get to use the language every day," said Warning. "Here you are guaranteed to get to do your job. It is pretty neat to know how far reaching we are from this little place in Georgia. We have an effect on stuff all the way around the world. It is kind of cool. As a linguist, this is definitely a good place to be."