The nature of the cryptolinguist’s work after training at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center is often shrouded in mystery because of the secrecy involved in the mission. Thankfully, sometimes the job takes the graduates to amazing places to do things they can talk about.
One such event took Army Sgt. Hailey Fairchild, recent Indonesian language graduate who is currently stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to Indonesia to participate in a joint exercise called Garuda Shield 2021, held July 15 – Aug. 17.
“Approximately one month before moving to Schofield Barracks (from DLIFLC), I received a call from my chief stating that I needed to begin the passport process because I would be heading to Indonesia,” said Fairchild.
This tasking was unexpected as Fairchild had just graduated from DLIFLC in November of 2020, the first class to finish their entire training online.
“Just one day after starting class we moved to Microsoft Teams due to coronavirus,” she said. “From then on my small class was totally virtual until the date of our DLPT.” The DLPT, or Defense Language Proficiency Test, is the final test students take at the end of the course. The DLPT was the first time the class was able to meet their instructors in person.
Without face-to-face interaction, the students had to get creative, Fairchild said, with things like talking to themselves, listening to podcasts or recording themselves talking about the news. Fairchild also labeled everything in her barracks room with the idea that she would constantly see the Indonesian vocabulary. She believes it was the combination of these efforts and the teaching team that helped her be successful in the program.
She was so successful that, within 18 months of starting her first Indonesian language class, Fairchild was on a plane to Indonesia to participate as an interpreter in exercise Garuda Shield, a joint training exercise between the Indonesian Army and the U.S. Army that helps to strengthen the diplomatic and military partnership through training.
“Both nations are able to gain things and learn a lot through cooperation, friendship and partnership building,” Fairchild said. “It was an incredible opportunity to work with the Indonesian military, the extremely talented foreign area officers stationed in Indonesia, and an incredible opportunity to work for my commanders.”
Fairchild and her unit stayed in the field in Baturaja, South Sumatra, living in tents for about a month with temperatures sometimes reaching the real feel of 110 degrees. When they first arrived in country a week early to quarantine for coronavirus, they noticed there were bells often ringing in town. Fairchild learned that they had arrived during a holiday, Indonesia’s Independence Day. She said it was her teachers and instruction team that helped her class understand the cultural nuances, knowledge that was useful particularly during the exercise.
“(The DLIFLC training) provided me the opportunity to understand things like religious celebrations, the food we got to enjoy, interpersonal relations and taboos, and more.” Because of the depth of her knowledge of the language and culture, it also gave her a chance to have deeper conversations with their Indonesian partners.
During the exercise, she not only worked as an interpreter, but Fairchild was considered a subject matter expert for her command team.
“Where Sgt. Fairchild stood out was her understanding of American and Indonesian military jargon to provide more accurate and fine-tuned translations than her civilian counterparts,” said Capt. Evelyn Payne, company commander for Delta Company, 65th Brigade Engineer Battalion. Garuda Shield had approximately five to 10 civilian translators that assisted with logistics, military operations and briefings but they didn’t necessarily know the U.S. military jargon, said Payne, and that can make a big difference.
One of the things that stood out the most to Fairchild during the exercise was her opportunity to interpret and work with the Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Army Gen. Andika Perkasa, a four-star general, and his wife. “It was an opportunity I never imagined I would have,” said Fairchild.
Considering that less than two years ago Fairchild had never spoken a word of Indonesian, this was an impressive jump. She credits her success to her instructors because of their hard work and dedication.
“The teaching team was amazing,” she said.