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Interpreter / Translator Program

What is it?
The Army’s 09L Interpreter / Translator Program is the effort to recruit, enlist, train, deploy, and retain native speakers of high demand foreign languages. Soldiers with the 09L designation are fluent in their language and enhance the Army’s cultural capabilities. This program focuses on U.S. Army Central Command (CENTCOM) missions and is developing a pilot for other regional Army language requirements. The Army’s 09L Soldiers are assigned to several different units including: Special Forces, Military Intelligence, Military Police, Infantry, Civil Affairs, and Medical. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or a legal permanent residents to enlist. Additionally, 09L recruits must pass a counter- intelligence screen prior to beginning training.

What has the Army done?
The Army began enlisting native speakers of Arabic, Dari, and Pashtu directly into the Individual Ready Reserve, in February 2003. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower & Reserve Affairs has oversight of the program. The Army Intelligence Center was tasked to be the proponent in 2004. In September 2005, the Army submitted a report to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) on its development and success. The OSD recommended institutionalizing the 09L program within the Army. The Defense Language Transformation Roadmap also tasked all Department of Defense services to examine the Army’s 09L Interpreter/Translator Program and determine compatability with their courses. In February 2006, 09L become one of the Army’s military occupational specialties. The Army has expanded the program to both the Active and Reserve Components. Force structure was developed and the proponent began developing a full enlisted career path.

What continued efforts does the Army have planned for the future?
Two Military Table of Organization and Equipment (operational) companies are scheduled to activate at the combat training centers. The first was activated in October 2008 and the second will activate in October 2009. These two companies provide 09L’s to train deploying forces and support other overseas missions with language and cultural capabilities. The Army is developing plans to expand the program to the Pacific and Africa Command areas of responsibility.

Why is this important to the Army?
The 09L’s have improved foreign language fluency and cultural awareness in the Army. They are force multipliers to commanders within the theater of operations. As native speakers of foreign languages, they are able to hear what is being said around them. Additionally, they can analyze their environment by understanding the people’s body language, nuances, and traditional customs. They are also invaluable for breaking through language and cultural barriers. In short, 09L interpreter / translators have saved lives in theater.

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