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. . .

The Army Unveils New, California-Friendly Uniforms

Every 18 months or so, each military branch unveils a new uniform change. Just this last week, I was told that my coveralls (that I got back when I was enlisted) would no longer be a valid Navy uniform. Apparently, we are moving to a non-flammable coverall. (Which I intend to blog in, to prevent vitriol generated by this post from harming me.) That said, I think the Army is taking the “let’s-recruit-the-heck-out-of-San-Franscico” thing too far:

Baltimore Raven fans at their Super Bowl victory party on the field.
Baltimore Raven fans at their Super Bowl victory party at M&T Stadium. (Not in the Navy or Army.)

Just kidding, this is a shot of Baltimore Raven fans celebrating their Super Bowl win. (Got ya for a second.) Go to the link to hear Ed Reed belting out Eddie Money’s Two Tickets to Paradise.

Pickles in Mayo

(Commence old grandpa voice) There is a certain joy in working with them young fellers. They know how us ol’ codgers work and sometimes they tell tales they know are gonna to crack us up. Like this complaint about a Fire Controlman (FC):

Sailor 1: Would someone please talk to FC2? He is sitting on the floor of berthing in his tightie whities, dipping pickles in mayonnaise and eating them!

Sailor 2: In his underwear?

Sailor 1: That’s what I said. That guy looks like a wolfman he is so hairy.

Sailor 2: Pickles in mayo, that doesn’t sound good.

Sailor 1: Yeah, he stores them in his wall locker.

Sailor 2: I’m no doctor, but doesn’t mayonnaise go bad pretty quickly?

Sailor 1: Whatever, I don’t care. I just want his fatass to put some clothes on.

Very quietly I laugh to myself. The Navy’s a chuckle a minute if you listen.

Your Olde Shipmates

Part of being in the Navy, at a very popular vacation spot, is that you are bound to run into old shipmates. Sure enough, day two, I spied a familiar face in the local coffee shop. Looking haggard.

Hey, how are you? How are things? I asked him. Just got into town.

Good. I leave in two days for DC. Done with my tour.

Ah, too bad. How was your last deployment?


I can tell.


(Laughing) Sorry…

It was disappointing that he was not going to be in town. Smart guys like him are invaluable to turn to even if he was stationed on a different ship. I wished him good luck in DC. That did not seem to me like a fair exchange, Japan for the Pentagram.

Later in the day, while returning to the humble confines of the Navy Lodge, I saw another guy I knew. I forgot where I knew him, only that I did not like him. A fact of life is that I (you) can’t get along with everyone.

He grinned at me, as if he expected me to say hello. I just walked by him and went to my room. I hate playing fake. Why catch up with someone when you have nothing positive to say? Anyway, as I opened my door, I remembered. He had a very college way about him, with not a military bone in his body. And I did not agree with him on anything. Ah well, hopefully he is not on my new ship…

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Military Acquisition Process

Leaving a military acquisition job and returning to the fleet has got me focused. I’ve enjoyed learning the process that moves a naval prototype from developmental model to a full-up fleet capability. But it is a slow chug – there are certain waypoints that Congress mandates to ensure that the taxpayers get maximum benefit. And each of those milestones require substantial work to meet. Some are important and some are red-tape heavy, with unnecessary slowdowns (in my humble opinion.)

Another challenge with military acquisition is that there are factors beyond delivering the very best capability to the Navy. Such as politics, jobs, and regional considerations:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Illinois is home to another important aerospace sector: defense. For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is supported by Illinois manufacturing companies. Across the state, roughly 2,000 jobs are tied to the program through about 50 suppliers. In terms of economic impact, the F-35 program contributes about $525 million to state and local economies.

Despite the economic opportunity the F-35 represents to Illinois, forces outside the state conspire to reverse the momentum we’ve seen. The project has been mired in unfounded criticism, the perception of unchecked cost overruns has soured many spectators and sequestration has complicated matters even more with constraints on spending.

In complex production projects like the F-35, substantial investments are made by suppliers in the program’s developmental stages and are only recouped when the program moves into full production. Full production occurs when the supply chain becomes more efficient at reducing costs and economies of scale are realized. Last year, F-35 program costs dropped by $4.5 billion. F-35 suppliers have already paid about one-third of the cost overruns in the first three lots of production and have committed to paying 100 percent of any overrun of the contract ceiling in the fourth lot of production and beyond. Even the congressional watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the program is moving in the right direction in a recent audit.

The cost issue cannot be truly addressed unless it is placed into a larger context of costs incurred versus costs saved. Once it is fully deployed, the F-35 will be used by the Air Force, Marines and Navy. The program would replace as many as seven legacy aircraft. The Pentagon projects that total maintenance costs for the legacy fleet would be four times the comparable maintenance costs of the F-35.

I think the F-35 is going to be a strong, albeit expensive, capability for our Navy.

A NSFW Navy Conversation

Twice a year, the Navys hold a PRT, a physical readiness test. And our command had ours last week. After an angry-gram was emailed out by the Command Fitness Leader (CFL), about forty of us, all decked out in our official Navy PT gear, showed up at the prescribed time and place.

As soon as I got there, another LT took me aside and told me Hey, I gotta talk to you, (while  flashing me bug eyes.) He clarified his statement with: I need to ask you a favor. (And he bugged out some more.)

A favor right before a PT exam usually meant one thing, as in: I am out of shape. And I am worried about failing. 

I followed him to the corner of the room. Hey look man, he said cautiously. You know how I was 48 pounds overweight?


And you know I lost all that weight over the last month.


Well, starting yesterday after weigh-ins, I’ve been eating like an absolute slob.


I had five meals yesterday. Look, I ate a burrito in thirty seconds!


And if I have some eruptions when you are holding my feet for sit-ups, I want to say sorry in advance.

Yeah. Um, thanks.

I am being serious. (He burped into his hand.)

No, I know you are. Let’s go kill this thing. 

I warned you.

Hey man, do your thing.

In Our National Defense

If you are interested in seeing a truly remarkable picture of an aircraft carrier with an UAV (a X-47B) on her flight-deck, click here. There is almost an alien presence to the vehicle. If you are perhaps (gasp) bored of the Navy (or perhaps you were never enthralled?) click here to read the story of Ryan Fogle and Russian accusations of his spying. . .

Ion Tiger, Greenpeace, and the Navy

Snark is usually an effective way to make a point. Add the Navy (and our new UAV called Ion Tiger) and Greenpeace as a recipe for success: 

It sure is nice to see that the military is paying attention to the environment, always on the lookout for greener ways to spy on people, foreign and domestic. Ion Tiger, for instance, is an unmanned vehicle being cooked up at the Naval Research Laboratory that incorporates a hydrogen fuel cell, offering many improvements on earlier battery powered designs — including a greater range (up to seven times further than that of current designs), heavier payloads, smaller size, reduced noise, a low heat signature, and zero emissions. The Office of Naval Research is making much of the possible civilian potentials for this technology, pointing out that research contributes “directly to solving some of the same technology challenges faced at the national level,” but we know the truth: the US military is in cahoots with Greenpeace. You heard it here first, folks.

Yes, the Navy is rife with hippies. . .

Who Has the World’s Second Largest Air Force?

Guest-post By Conrad Yu

Air Force logoHint: the World’s Largest Air Force is none other than the U.S. Air Force, of course.

But what about the second – is it China’s, Russia’s, or any of our NATO allies’?  No, the U.S. gets to place first AND second:  our Air Force places first with over 5,400 aircraft, and our Navy follows in second with over 3,700.  So what do we have to worry about?

With all the tension surrounding North Korea and its constant threats of nuclear war, it may be easy to forget the implications of a full-scale invasion.  Here’s a reference tool for all of the American casualties in the first Korean War and the American casualties in the Vietnam War.

Elf’s, Safety, and an old Sea Dog!

‘Elf’ & Safety -V- Sir Francis Drake’s ‘olde’ watering hole.

Sir Francis Drake
  Sir Francis Drake

More often, than ‘often’, I mention the past, and comment on historical dit’s and adventures (‘swing the lamp’ for the Navy/’pull up a sandbag’ for the Marines). This is mainly due to the fact that it is fairly difficult to foresee and predict future escapades!

This post stands firm in the same manner.

Far gone memories were brought flooding back through a recent newspaper article (as well as several outraged phone calls from ex-Bootnecks). It concerns the past affection held for Sir Francis Drakes ‘olde’ watering hole in Plymouth, the Minerva Inn (from where, as a Vice Admiral, he quaffed a gallon after defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588).

Minerva Inn, Plymouth

The ‘Minerva Inn’ is a pub dear to my own heart. I drank my first ever pint there as a newly qualified Royal Marines Commando. When my son was born, a dozen or more good hardy Marines took me there ‘to wet the baby’s head’. In the same bar I celebrated a Marines engagement, his eventual stag night, and even ‘wet the baby’s head’ when his son was born. I celebrated all of my promotions within the ‘Minerva’; and sadly over the years I also mourned the death of some good Marines.

Consequently I ensured that every ‘sprog’ that became part of my Section/Troop/Company knew of the tradition that went along with the Minerva Inn, as well of other ‘public houses’ of great repute, that have passed into Bootneck folklore.

The ‘Minerva’ in particular, because one great individual that walked through its hallowed door was the great Vice Admiral ~ Francis Drake (who also dwelled in the house next door before moving onto far greater things). He will turn in his shroud at the thought of what public ‘elf’-&-safety demand of the present landlords.

Teak and oak beams taken from the ships of the defeated Spanish Armada form part of the interior of the Minerva Inn, they stand open and proudly on display for all to see. ‘Elf’ & Safety wish to see a great tradition covered over from the public eye, forever… Prior to active deployments, quite a few names from years gone past have left their mark within; some never to return. It is hoped that a tactical resolve can be found that suits all concerned.

Here comes the ‘dit’

On reporting for duty at my first RM Commando Unit, I was unfortunate enough to (literally) bump into a giant of a Marine; by sheer coincidence I happened to bump into him again a few hours later, as I was shown my bunk opposite his in a two-man cabin. ‘Tiny’ took it upon him self to show me the ropes as well as the run ashore in Plymouth. That same evening I was ‘ordered’ to accompany him to a pub for a ‘quick’ pint of cider… being a ‘sprog’ straight from training I had no option but to comply. Fortunately it was a Thursday evening, the start of a long weekend’s leave, as well as the end of the month & payday.

Exit right & roll down the hill to the Barbican
            Exit right & roll down the hill to the Barbican

Having caught a ‘hackney’ black cab into the City centre we pulled up outside of a small unassuming bar. Obviously I had the privilege of paying the taxi fare, and as I was reminded all evening, it was a ‘sprogs privilege’ to do so.

My first pint in Plymouth, on my first ever night in Plymouth, was at the bar of ‘The Minerva Inn’ on Looe Street, the oldest pub in Plymouth (CIRCA 1540, and home to the dealings of the press-gang).

As I paid the fare, Tiny was already through the door and ordering the pints that I was (also) about to pay for. He ordered four? I could have sworn he threw the contents of the first onto the floor, as he quickly banged the glass back onto the bar, empty? ‘Oh My God’, it dawned on me that this man was not just a giant of a man, but also a ‘Beer Monster’ of the most fearsome kind… The game was on! I followed suit and banged my empty glass down in the same fashion, and the next, after which I felt my leather belt strain slightly as my steel muscled six pack expanded (a newly acquired six-pack, the result of recruit training at the Commando Training Centre), what had I let myself in for…

An Elf that is also a Beer Monster, which has nothing to do with this tale

(An ‘Elf’ that appears to be a ‘Beer Monster’, which has nothing to do with this tale)!

After a half of a gallon, I was about to visit the heads and make a deposit to aid my expanding girth, when I heard a voice boom “where-R-U-going-Royal” ~ “to the heads” I replied, “but I don’t need to, & nor do you, we’re leaving and heading down the street to the Barbican, lets not waste time peeing”! Obviously giants have much larger bladders than mere mortals…

I groaned, my bladder groaned, and my leather belt ‘creaked’ like the harness on a heavy Shire horse pulling a cart full of potatoes.

Safe to say I made the next pub with dignity intact, and continued the night in good form. It was made easier as I somehow managed to lose my 6’ 6” drinking partner in a bar that was packed to the ‘gunwales’. Though I was fortunate enough to bump into two of my squad mates from training.

The next morning I was tipped from my bunk by a grinning ‘Hercules’, as he required my presence at breakfast. Mid morning I endured a long 7-mile run with the beast, all in readiness for that evenings second attempt at bladder control, which obviously started in the Minerva Inn

Train hard, fight easy, and drink till you stink on R & R… Not the words of Sir Francis Drake, but the mighty Beer Monster ‘Tiny’.

Naked Dudes and Flat Tires: Wassup!

Naked Dudes and Flat TiresAs I type this, I am sitting in Panera. It is four in the afternoon and I am waiting patiently, in uniform, for the tire repair shop across the street to finish patching my tire. Twenty minutes ago, I drove over a piece of chain-link fence, giving me a very slow leak. The tired tire guy sprayed the hole with Windex where I pulled the piece of chain-link out and indeed the puncture was bubbling.

At the repair shop, a man walked up to me with an excuse me, sir? He then thanked me for me service. In a very heartfelt, humble way. I shook his hand and thanked him with a it’s my honor and privilege.  

And then just ten minutes ago, as I am waiting to cross the street, three Hispanic high school kids chatted me up. Hey, one of them asked,  Army or Navy? He wore rosary beads around his neck and his hair was spiky.

Navy, I replied.

Wassup! he yelled. YELLED. 

I ignored him. Even though one of his buddies talked about joining the Air Force. I’d no time for silliness. I had to get over to Panera to hit my orange juice. And to write this.

As for my title and naked dudes,  I was at my gym this morning, changing into my uniform after a great workout. Someone several lockers away bellowed, excuse me. I ignored him. I did not know anyone at that Encinitas gym. The heavy rains had necessitated that I take different roads to the freeway. So I decided to drive over to the coast. Good thing I belong to a gym with locations all over San Diego.

Soldier! the man insisted.

Naked Dudes and Flat TiresI guess he was talking to me. Yes, I replied turning to a naked dude.

Thanks for doing what you do. And he shook my hand.

Just writing this, makes me shake my head. Naked dudes and flat tires, WASSUP!

Update: I really must thank Evans Tires for doing the job for free! Great Americans, all of them.

In the Navy, Joey Bag A Donuts

I have not had a donut in years and my Shipmates seem to think this is hilarious. That not eating a donut is not fitting for a Sailor. That Sailors should be eating donuts! Whenever the subject comes up, I feel the same way Joey Bag A Donuts does in this picture. The Navy preaches a culture of physical fitness but prizes eating fried balls of sugared dough?