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. . .

1 Billion Rising and the Qu’ran

When I lived in the Bay Area, I saw a fair number of protests. Most were ridiculous affairs and only served to annoy folks who were trying to get around town. (Folks probably refers to me, and folks of my ilk. I imagine some people liked ’em. But they were not per se folks. Take my word on it. I could provide links, but I’ll will spare your visual receptor nerves.)

Eve Ensler, the writer of the Vagina Monologues used this Valentine Day to stage an anti-rape dance/protest known as 1 Billion Rising. The self-righteous smugness of some of the protestors is as expected. Although, I agree with the idea that rape in all forms is unacceptable. But I think any sane person thinks this way too.

Take this dhimmi holding up a sign about the Qu’ran. Who spells it that way? Seriously. Why not Koran or Quran? Because this is the Bay Area and we must be culturally obsequious. And has she read the Koran? I have and it is not the book she thinks it is.

Eve Ensler's 1 Billion Rising, anti-rape protest in San Francisco
Eve Ensler’s 1 Billion Rising, anti-rape protest in San Francisco

If you look in the top corner of her sign, on the right side, you will see a clumsy attempt at writing the word allah (الله.) Her letters look weird and it reminds me of my first attempts at writing Arabic. The first four weeks of Arabic instruction at our military language school (DLI) is called scream and scribble. And scribble we did. (Although I never screamed, except in frustration.As for the poor lady and her sign, she is lost. I pity her and all these other folks.

Slicing Bananas, Marine Corps Style

Here is the post where I piss off the Marine Corps. But I promise this story is entirely true, to the best of my ability. Back in language school, when I was junior enlisted, I was Leading Seaman. It was a glorious job that mostly entailed being loud, setting a good example, and pt’ing the guys. All of which I did.

We ran out of room in the Navy barracks, so I ended up in the Marine barracks. 65 Sailors and myself for a year. It was great, I reported in to our leadership when there was a problem, which was rare, if ever. I got the older guys together and convinced them that we could handle all problems in-house. No one was to go directly to the quarterdeck with an issue without at least giving us the opportunity to solve it first.

It worked well. We had all sorts of challenges, from guys who would not clean their room, to those who were failing their language. We had harassment (mild at best) and the usual beefs you might expect to find. But we had brotherhood. I heard for years after, that the Marine barracks was the high point for a lot of guys at DLI.

I encouraged everyone to keep their doors open. And we all went on beach runs once a week in addition to our usual pt. Of course, some guys conveniently disappeared when the beach run popped. . .

Living in the Marine barracks, we got to know a lot of the Marines and we even had some of them join in on our beach runs. One of them sat at our table one day for breakfast before class. And as he struggled to tear open a banana, he said (no joke): Monkeys always make it look so easy!

We did not say anything at first. We knew we had been given a great gift that day. That a seemingly innocuous comment by a Marine private would be repeated for months.

Further good news from banana land. There is a banana slicer out on the market, from a company called Hutzler:

Hutzler Banana Slicer

My immediate reaction of flying into a tirade against useless kitchen gadgets is probably going to end with me having a heart attack in Williams-Sonoma one day.

But ridiculous crap like this Hutzler banana peeler needs to be called out.

When ripe and edible, bananas are one of the easiest foods to cut.

I wonder whether we should send the Hutzler Deluxe Banana Slicer to Marine bases?

How to Lose Your Military Career in One Easy Step

Welcome aboard Shipmate!

I see by your shiny dress-blues that you are one burnt slider* removed from Boot Camp. Good. Let’s discuss what you should not do in the Navy. Advance warning: this example may defy common-sense. Do not try at home.

Flash forward to a month after Boot Camp and you are tired of playing the military game. You want to get away. From “A” School, at the Defense Language Institute. Somehow you have the Navy pegged as oppressive. Really, your life is good. You are told what to: wear, eat, do. And when to: show up, wake up, push up, sleep.

Casual readers, pull your children in close. This is not for the squeamish. You really wanna get off base. And taste some freedom. The problemo: you don’t have wheels. It is a couple of days before the weekend. You decide to hide. From class, from the world.

But not from the Navy. We can find you. And we do. In your girlfriend’s wall locker where you have been holed up for 3 days. Huddled inside like Gollum, like Smeagol, waiting. Good job, hope you enjoy that Captain’s Mast. We would take your cherished stripes away, but heck, you’re a Seaman Recruit. Think buck E-1. Stripes, you ain’t got any.

Let’s switch services. Some Air Force big-brains decided to take a little squadron snapshot. You know the type where you suck the gut in and puff out your war-fighter, tiger-striped chest. (Full disclosure, I’ve clenched my jaw through a couple of these, too.)

You say you want to get a little tough wit’it? Okay, what do you have in mind? Somethin’ rough, something a little street. Ahhhh, street? We are in the military, the only street we should be running is Route Irish in Baghdad (well, not anymore.) So you pull this:

“Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt………Sucks 2 Be U,” Air Force Casket Photo, 345th Training Squadron, Fort Lee, Virginia

Whoops, rookie move. This one is going to claim a couple of stripes. First of all, you are mocking our brave Men and Women who have given their all. Big mistake. Huge:

The Air Force has launched an investigation into a controversial photo that shows several non-commissioned officers posing with an open casket, in which a fellow airman poses with a noose around his neck and chains over his body.

The Air Force Times received a copy of the photo over email, which includes the caption, “Da Dumpt, Da Dumpt …. Sucks 2 Be U.” The casket is similar to those used to transport deceased U.S. soldiers home from the battlefield. . .

The photo, dated August 23rd, was reportedly taken by airmen with the 345th Training Squadron at Fort Lee, Virginia, according to Gerry Proctor, spokesman for the 37th Training Group at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, which includes the 345th Training Squadron.

That giant sucking sound is your career, senior guy or girl. And for all you junior folks looking all tough in the picture, think about your actions. Just like that Sailor who hid in a wall-locker for a couple of days, you will be caught. If you have to be hip and edgy, get a blog. I hear it is a great way to blow off some steam. . .

Lana Del Rey of Video Games says- Be like the Mellow Jihadi and get a blog

* That’s right, I linked to Martha Stewart. And Lana Del Rey. In the same post. A blogospheric first. . .