JAKARTA, Indonesia – In packed conference rooms, dozens of U.S. service members engage with counterparts from the Indonesian armed forces at Exercise Gema Bhakti 2022. The discussions are broad, from friendly banter to talks on joint operations doctrine.
Participants exchange ideas and make friendships, but one thing is evident: a language barrier exists.
For one Soldier, the language barrier is not an issue. Army Sgt. Aditya Utoyo converses with ease in Indonesian and English. Utoyo’s native tongue is Bahasa Indonesia, making him one of the most valued participants at the exercise.
Raised in Indonesia before coming to the United States, Utoyo, a transportation management coordinator assigned to the Hawaii Army National Guard Joint Force Headquarters, has seen his share of overseas assignments in a military career of nearly a decade.
His mastery of Bahasa and practical experience with Indonesian culture have brought him back to the country of his youth to act as an interpreter and cultural expert for the many U.S. service members participating in GB22.
“It’s really rewarding working with the Indonesian soldiers at the same time with other U.S. military services,” Utoyo said. “I feel at home with both parties, to tell you the truth.”
Utoyo is among an array of experts assembled by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to participate in GB22.
Gema Bhakti, Indonesian for “echo of good deeds,” is a staff exercise between USINDOPACOM and the Indonesian armed forces to improve joint, operational staff planning and processes and promote positive military relations.
“It’s an honor to be part of this team, really,” said Utoyo. “Being from both Indonesia and the U.S., I have a unique interest in seeing that this exercise is successful, and it really opens my eyes seeing how involved operations planning really is.”
While most exchanges between U.S. and Indonesian personnel go on without a hitch, Utoyo steps in when language nuances and subtleties need to be bridged.
“A lot of the Indonesian soldiers are amazed when we meet for the first time,” said Utoyo. “I feel like when they discover that Iʻm originally from here, it goes a long way in making everyone feel comfortable.”
Higher education brought Utoyo to the United States in 2009 after high school. While attending college on the East Coast, a chance encounter with an Army recruiter offered a way to pay for college and become a U.S. citizen.
A program authorized the military to recruit qualified non-citizens whose skills were vital to the national interest.
Utoyo’s mastery of Bahasa qualified him for the program.
“Joining the Army has been life-changing,” Utoyo said. “When I was growing up, I never thought this could be a reality. Now I have two daughters who were both born in the U.S., and service has been so important to me and my family.”
Utoyo serves as an interpreter and a resource for fellow service members who have questions about Indonesian culture. For Utoyo, sharing Indonesian culture while being able to befriend Indonesian counterparts is the highlight of GB22.
Now in its 10th iteration, Gema Bhakti is proving to be a strong international exercise with staying power. Indonesia, along with other allies and partner nations, is an essential strategic partner in promoting regional peace and stability.
For Utoyo, Gema Bhakti provides an opportunity to do good for the two countries near and dear to his heart.
“If they ask me back, thatʻs an easy one,” said Utoyo. “Yes indeed, I’d come back. It would be an honor to support the program as an interpreter for future engagements.”