Becoming a Military Linguist

Folks, as I still work the long hours of being deployed (no complaints), you might enjoy this email interaction I had with a prospective linguist as she looks to join the military:

So it started with a comment on the About page which I returned with:

You commented on my blog and I would be glad to answer any questions you had about being a Navy CTI (or the other branches for that matter.)

I enjoy the field immensely and like “talking” about it. . . I was an Arabic/French linguist, but am currently stationed in Japan.

And her questions:

Thank you so much for your willingness to talk with me about this.

I’m a 26-year-old college graduate with a degree in language (Latin
and Greek – useful, eh?) and I’ve been floating from job to job
halfheartedly since finishing school in 2010. I keep returning to the
idea that language is my one true passion, but I haven’t figured out
how to implement it professionally. I’ve at the same time been
developing a stronger interest in the military, and when I learned
that one can enlist as a linguist, I’ve been so thrilled at the
possibility. I do have an upcoming session with a recruiter, but given
that he will obviously be biased, I need all the advice I can get.

I’ve been told that I should enlist specifically with the army because
they’re the branch who will guarantee your placement as a linguist. Is
this the case? I’d like very much to ultimately work as an
interrogator, but I don’t really know the other routes that one can
take as a linguist. What did you do?

Also, I’m wondering about the experience of being a woman in this
position. I think we’re all familiar with the horror stories of women
being constantly assaulted – is this something that in your mind is
overplayed by the media, or is it as rampant a problem as we all hear?
As a man in the military, what are your thoughts on whether women
belong there? What have you observed about the general attitude on the
part of men toward their female counterparts in the service? Feel free
to be as un-PC as necessary :)

Lastly, what work opportunities are there for a linguist after your
term is complete? I’ve again read many horror stories about
high-ranking veterans failing to find work after leaving the
service….but it seems like there should be a fair number of options
for an American who speaks Arabic, no?

Honestly, anything you can tell me about your experience would be
extremely helpful.

Thank you, thank you!

I always get concerned when folks are joining the military with no good sources of inside information. They (understandably) have to rely on the press, who has an agenda of their own. My response:

Wow, okay! Let’s do this. I understand your position very well. I was a UC Berkeley grad when I enlisted and got a couple of raised eyebrows.

I understand your concern about recruiters. Don’t sign anything and you will be fine. I had a somewhat shady interaction with the Air Force recruiter; it really turned me off to that service.

I also love languages. I speak French and Arabic. The first I got when I was young and then I learned Arabic at DLI, the military’s school in Monterey, California. (I also took Greek in college. Kalimera!) I am stationed in Japan and tomorrow I go to my first Japanese lesson. Can’t wait. . .

You got bad gouge about the Army guaranteeing you a job. The Navy can too, provided you get it on paper. I entered the Navy with my job as a linguist guaranteed. The only thing that would have stopped me- if I had not passed my security clearance or had failed out of DLI. Trust me, I’ve seen both. It is a little scary, but you will be fine. (Provided you don’t have too many skeletons in your closet. . . (Grin.) One guy had a vindictive girlfriend who lied about him and drugs, so he never completed DLI.)

Ah, women in the military. Okay. Whatever you’ve heard was bs. Look, I am a Berkeley grad, so I think I have a little bit of an outside perspective that may grant a stranger a little credibility on the matter. It is nonsense that women get constantly assaulted. I will say, it is more dangerous being on a college campus, at frat parties, etc, than being in the military as a woman. Obviously, I am a man, so take my opinion as that. Sadly, there are folks who score political points by taking us down in this respect. Do women get assaulted? Yes, tragically. But at a lower rate, I would argue, than the civilian world. I would be glad to forward your email to friends of mine who are female. And you can hear it from them. . .

Do we joke around? Yes. It can be a little like a locker-room sometime. We are a different kind of job after all. Truthfully, the filthiest I’ve ever seen a Sailor/Officer in a group setting was a tie between two women officers. They were x-rated in their wardroom banter. It was kind of shocking, but no one said anything to them because they were female. That all said, thousands of female service members are fine. A couple of tips: Don’t get repeatedly, fall-down drunk with your shipmates. Don’t walk around in a bikini at parties. Etc. . .

Last thought on women: I really appreciate having females in the Navy. And on the ship. (Even subs if you guys want to. I certainly don’t want to be in one of those sinkers.) Trust me, the Navy is like a really cool, slightlllllllllllly miserable club where you work hard. Or sometimes, you completely screw off. (Don’t tell anyone about the last thing.)

As far as jobs go after the service, I am in for 20 or more. But there are plenty of opportunities for folks who speak languages. Google Titan, L3, SAIC, Booze-Allen-Hamliton, etc for military contractors offering job opportunities.

Interrogators? I ran the linguist shop down at Gitmo when Gitmo was Gitmo. You can go that path, but the Army seems to have a far more robust program than the Navy. My friends who did the job were known as 97Es. But now I think they may be known as 35Ms. It is an interesting facet of linguistics.

I’ll stop rambling. I think you have valid questions, but don’t buy the media bs about the military being hard on females. My boss right now is a female Commander and she would undoubtedly say that the Navy is a fair organization that values hard work, talent, and dedication. (Phew, I sound like a commercial.)

Let me know how I can help. Your three next steps are: visit the recruiter (Go Navy!), take the ASAVB, and then take the DLAB. (A test that sort-of “explores” your ability to learn languages.)

Can I post your email and my reply on my blog? I will eliminate any identifying material, of course. I think it can be helpful to other folks…

Take care and fire away with more q’s,

Ah, one of my favorite topics – joining the Navy. To be continued. . .

Just Your Normal California La-Di-Da

Yesterday, I left my house groggy-eyed. Before you tsk-tsk at my grog-infused eyes, know that it was 0438 and I was headed to the gym. Not fifty feet from me, two of San Diego’s Finest coppers stood behind their police-cars. Barricading off the cul-de-sac one driveway above me. I, vewy vewy caaawfully, got into my car and drove off to the gym. Still no word on what that was all about.

Carl's Jr LolzToday, while at Carl’s Jr, while ordering a low-carb Western Bacon Cheeseburger and sweet potato fries, the kid behind the counter apologized profusely and diffusely (with spittle) that he was unable to offer me a military discount. I smiled and told him no problem. Wide-eyed, he announced to me: I am just about to go and enlist myself. I encouraged him, chatting briefly about the joys of linguinism (the practice of linguistics.) I have not taken the AVSAB yet. I smiled, mildly corrected it to ASVAB. And later when he delivered my lettuce-wrapped hambuggie, he asked me whether I knew so-and-so. He’s a recruiter. He recruited my dad into the Air Force. I thought about the name and shook my head. Hmm, figures. My dad is 61, he added. (No further commentary at this time. . .)

Joining the World’s Finest Navy©

Over the years, as most folks in uniform will echo, I’ve been approached by civilians asking for help getting their friend, family member, or (even) neighbor into the military. Currently, I have three recruits that I am assisting in their initial efforts.

Two are brothers, both in high school. They come from a poorer Mexican family and I work with their female cousin at my current command. Both her husband and her are well-off and want to see something come out of her cousins’ life. And the Navy fits that bill in her eyes.

So I wrote ’em up an email describing Navy ratings, ASVAB, and recruiter tips. I offered to go to the recruiting station with them. Or to talk them through the process. That was ten days ago, with nil heard yet. We shall see. In the meantime, I swing by her desk to ask about her cousins, all the while trying to work on my Spanglish. I have learned two cousins is not: dos cocinasdos cachondas, dos coosuenas, or dos cochinitos. I forget the real word for it, dos primos or something?

Today, near quittin’ time, a new girl stopped by my desk to chat about her brother. He is 18 years old and has had some drug issues. Crystal meth. But from back when he was a juvenile. He has been clean for six months. Do you think you can help him out? I have my doubts, but I emailed my Chief buddy to see what the story is about crystal meth. I also recycled my email to the dos cocinas and sent it to her to give to her brother. If the pictures are to be believed, meth is a nasty drug that steals your soul. Since my major abuse issue is the inability to shake my nasty burrito habit, I have no experience with tweakers (the phrase for the people who smoke crystal meth.)

I wish them all well and fully respect anyone who casts their lot in with the World’s Finest Navy©. We are one small step up from pirates and we revel in it. More to follow on these recruits. It is a tough time to be ajoining the military, and we don’t give away aquaflage for free. But if their heart is in it, they will get in.

Update- Here is the email I sent to my co-worker with the two cousins:

Hi ******,

Great to hear that your two cousins are interested in the Navy! Some good information for them to consider:

-There are many jobs in the Navy, they should start to consider the fields they would want to work in. Here is a link on getting started on the Navy path. And here are the job fields. I am partial to CTs (linguists, signal collectors, signal equipment maintainers, computer network techs, etc), but it depends on their likes and strengths.

-The Enlisted Navy recruiter can be found here. (I inputted 92110 for the area code.) It lists the address as: 940 University Ave, Ste 200 in San Diego, CA 92103 (Telephone: 619-220-5800.) I would be glad to go down to the recruiter with them. (Or chat with them before they go.) I’ve done it before several times with folks.

-A ROTC scholarship, which pays for college and a small stipend, can be found here.

-First, they will need to take the ASVAB. There are great study materials available at Amazon.

My personal email is cc’d above. I am also cc’ing *******. She has a great perspective, considering she is a LCDR and has been in the Navy for some time. Feel free to tell your cousins to email me. I will make myself available for any support they require. . .


Navy Recruiting with Wickets

I am standing at the edge of the pier chatting with a Navy Chief. We are waiting for a late Warrant Officer before we go aboard a DDG.

You miss your last job? I ask the Chief.

Recruiting? Hell no. If I got home at seven o’clock it was an early night for me, sir.

How is it going recruiting linguists these days?

Good. They get bonuses and all that. But the thing that makes it rough are the wickets.


The Navy sets goals and it is not enough that you find one recruit a month to join the Navy. I wasn’t looking for a Nuke MM, I had to find a Nuke that was a Hispanic female scoring so high on the ASVAB. And preferably one that was young. Those are the wickets.

Where did you find the recruits?

When I got hard up, I went to fast food places. And the mall, I looked for the dissatisfied kids and went over and talked to them. I don’t want the white males, they don’t help with my wickets.

Wow, Chief.

And I was recruiting in Kansas. The Navy wants its Sailors to fit racial precentages. And we used that in recruiting. At least, that was what I was told.

Marines assigned to Recruiting Station Lansing, Recruiting Sub-Stations Grand Rapids North and South, participate Jan. 25 in the opening ceremony for the Grand Rapids Pond Hockey Classic on the frozen surface of Reeds Lake in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Marines performed in sub-zero temperatures to present the colors before the game.
Marines assigned to Recruiting Station Lansing, Recruiting Sub-Stations Grand Rapids North and South, participate Jan. 25 in the opening ceremony for the Grand Rapids Pond Hockey Classic on the frozen surface of Reeds Lake in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Marines performed in sub-zero temperatures to present the colors before the game.