Editor’s Note: Actual names have been withdrawn from the following for the protection of intelligence Soldiers and their families.
The .50-caliber bullets rained down for eight days before Sgt. 1st Class Jake’s team caught a break. The enemy combatant behind the high-powered weapon sent out a radio message. Jake’s ultramodern equipment intercepted it and a highly-skilled teammate translated from their position on a hilltop in Afghanistan.
“He’s asking for food, water and some ammunition,” Jake relayed on.
A target acquisition team soon after spotted the combatant leaving a hidden position to meet his suppliers. His resupply request, in a language foreign to the Soldiers he was attacking in the valley below, would mean his own doom and a job well done for Jake and his intelligence Soldiers.
Jake has been a 35P, the Army’s military occupational specialty code for signals intelligence voice interceptor, since he became a Soldier in 2004. He’s part of an elite group that masters foreign languages and the very sophisticated technology of their trade.
The Army is currently searching for Future Soldiers to fill the 35P ranks with enlistment bonuses up to $40,000. Bonuses up to $18,000 are also available for enlisting as a 35M, human intelligence collector, another MOS within the same exclusive Army group that masters foreign languages.
Both occupations also maintain elevated physical fitness standards, top tier security clearances, weapons qualifications, combat vehicle credentials, and the many other nuances needed to deploy with Army Special Forces and frontline fighters.
“I got to run and gun with the Green Berets,” Jake said about his Afghanistan deployment with the legendary Army force. “I went down range and every mission that the Green Berets were on, I was there to provide support.”
A decade earlier, Jake was in Iraq with the well-known warriors of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He was also there with a 35M at his side. A tag-team method, he discovered, was ideal for supporting enemy tracking missions.
Jake would use his specialized equipment to locate a target in a neighborhood. The 35M would then travel with him and 82nd troops to the neighborhood and let the equipment narrow in on the enemy’s specific location.
“Once we identified the house, the infantry would go do their thing,” Jake said. “The 35M, usually my buddy who was in the truck with me, would swap out, because he was in the turret running security while I was running my equipment. Once we had the house secured, I would jump up in the turret to pull security. He would dismount (and then) go into the house and start doing his 35M stuff.”
Sgt. 1st Class Craig has been doing 35M stuff since a large bonus and a top-secret clearance lured him to change Army jobs in 2010. He was taught, and still believes, 35M is the “best damn MOS in the Army.”
The “three main pillars” of his job are interrogations, military source operations (i.e. working with informants), and debriefings. Providing those services to the Army’s best fighters in deployed locations, Craig said, is “pretty much our bread and butter.”
Craig has fond memories of supporting a light infantry unit during his first deployment to Afghanistan. It was a one-man operations assignment and he was given a small, primitive hooch to serve as his office and bedroom. During patrols, Craig would “float around” collecting intelligence, a very 35M-unique experience.
“While the infantry is doing the infantry thing, I’m actually in there engaging the population,” he said. “I’m talking to them. I’m getting to know them, building those relationships…you’re getting to see the true side of their culture, the people, and their values.”
Both Craig and Jake are now stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the home of the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence. All Future Soldiers who enlist as a 35M or 35P can count on training at USAICoE, but not all will be required to attend the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.
Future Soldiers already fluent in a needed language can enlist through the Army Civilian Acquired Skills Program. Joining via ACASP not only comes with a financial bonus, the program guarantees the higher pay and privilege of finishing basic training with the rank of specialist.
The training for becoming a 35M or 35P can also jump start and/or enhance a Soldier’s education. The four months of 35M training at USAICoE is nationally recognized and worth 27 college credits, Craig said. The school has a partnership with a local college to grant associate’s degrees to 35M Soldiers who complete a few more general education classes.
The language school in Monterey is also accredited. Soldiers graduate DLI with language arts credits and those who study “top-tier” languages like Russian and Mandarin Chinese, Craig said, can earn the equivalent of an associate’s degree before they report to USAICoE.
Becoming a 35M or 35P opens many doors to future opportunity. Jake and Craig have seen many of their fellow Soldiers go on to exciting and lucrative jobs in the civilian sector, often involving the “three-letter agencies” of the federal government (think FBI and CIA).
Private sector opportunities that pay well also await. A friend Jake deployed to Afghanistan with recently received a job with a six-figure salary at Microsoft. The Soldier went to the computer giant after finishing one Army tour with the Army E-5 rank of sergeant and Microsoft only needed his rare technical skills learned as a 35P. The other language Jake’s friend spoke wasn’t even necessary for kick-starting a bigger payday.
Jake has seen many others finish their 35P journey and discover success with the National Security Agency.
“They found their happy place,” he said. “And (NSA) pays quite well because you walk into that job having the language, a clearance, and some experience.”
Jake has noticed that former 35Ps and 35Ms tend to look for the same job satisfaction unique to their prior Army life on the front lines and in the rear. For example, Jake was part of a stateside team that collected, analyzed and reported intelligence that appeared in the daily briefs given to the president.
“It is immensely satisfying,” he said, “to know that what we are doing is having an impact on national policy and decision making.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to learn more about 35P, Signals Intelligence Voice Interceptor
Click here to learn more about 35M, Human Intelligence Collector