When we were at Ft Polk during our mobilization training we went through 40 hours of Dari language training. It was learning a some of the basic vocabulary, numbers, and greetings, The training was intended to give us the ability understand the first 5 minutes of a the start of a conversation. So the training is useful if we only intend to walk down to our Afghans, introduce ourselves then ask “How are you?“ With the expectation that they will answer with of “I am fine how are you.” To which we would always say, “Good”. This is were our interpreters are vitally important.
So in addition to mentoring the S1 personnel section of our Kandak, my main additional duty is I am also the Terp Manager for our team. When we got here we inherited six interpreters for our team, however to try and decrease the strain of having to share interpreters amongst our team a couple days ago we were able to add an additional Terp to help.
MAJ Baer, the S3/XO mentor probably has one of the better and most experienced interpreters assigned to our team. Ken, has been working as a Terp for the past five years and has a wife a two little kids. Almost a tossup in abilities is Sam, the Terp that works with CPT Anderson the S4 mentor. Similar to Ken he has been working as an interpreter for close to five years. I give Sam a bit of grief, as he is barely into his mid-20s and is dating a girl that is seven years younger than him. He assures me that is normal for Afghanistan. The third senior member of our team of Terps is Joe, who helps our Command Sergeant Major and his mentoring of the Kandak CSM. Joe is one of the younger members of the team, but also has been interpreting for about five years. He also has a young wife and child. I started the deployment working with Sean, he as been working as a Terp for about a year now. He is unique in that he is the only one on the team that has a college degree. Also single, he sends most of the money that he earns back to his parents as they helped him out quite a bit while he was in college. After a couple months, due to a personality styles I swapped with CPT Reid the HHC mentor. CPT Reid has a very direct style and his Terp, Dale wasn’t always able to effectively convey with the force that CPT Reid needed. Dale is the youngest of our gang of Terps, my laid back style seems to work fairly well with his strengths. The last of our original six is Wally the Wise as we often call him. The smallest in stature, though perhaps is the biggest in heart. Wally is in his mid-20s, and when he gets enough free time he makes a long journey to visit his family. He relayed a story of during his last visit to his parents he purchased a small solar panel system so that they could have some power to listen to a radio. The newest edition to our gang of seven is Kelly, who was working as a interpreter for a medical training team for the past couple years. We are still getting to know Kelly, but thus far seems like he will be a good addition to our team.
They are a good bunch of guys, that make our jobs possible. In our walks to and from the Kandak we get about 10 minutes to B.S. with our Terps about their lives and families. Part of the fun of those walks is sharing stories about life in the United States, and what life is like where we have come in. We have taught them several useless, and trivial things; but stuff none-the-less that will come in handy if they ever get to the States. For example I taught Dale and Wally the art of doing a good Truffle Shuffle. They also now know what it means if someone showed up to work acting as though they rode The Little Yellow Short Bus. It has become comical as we now have most of the team able to finish the commercial jingle for Mounds and Almond Joy: ”Sometime you feel like a nut, sometime you don’t….” If our meeting time or place changes I need to tell them, the New Bat Time, and the New Bat Channel, otherwise it is assumed that we will meet tomorrow “Same Bat Time, and Same Bat Channel.” They also have started to overuse the phrase “Peace Out” whenever we part ways instead of getting a see you later they will tell me to Peace Out. Fortunately, as far as I can tell I nor any of my team members have taught any of our Terps any swear or curse words. I think though that most of them from previous American rotations had a pretty good handle on how to swear like an American.
All of my guys are hard workers, and have interesting stories to tell. The ones that are not married, part of their goal with the money that they make as interpreter is help out their families which is a big part of their culture. Many of them I also believe are saving their money to get married. Even though they may not have a girlfriend, having a proper wedding ceremony may be one of the biggest expenses in their life. A good wedding is a big deal in Afghan society, perhaps costing more than $10,000 US dollars with hundreds of friends and families from both sides of the families coming to a wedding celebration. Because their values are a bit different from ours, for some of them it may not be uncommon for one of them when they eventually do get married to marry a cousin. We have given them some good natured ribbing that is not something that you want to do, marrying your cousin.
Because they work for the US Army, after a couple years working as an interpreter they go to the front of the line in Afghanistan to apply for a visa to the United States. My three guys who have been working as interpreters the longest are pretty far along in their visa applications, and just waiting for different pieces of paperwork to come through. So quite often they will ask questions about where are the good places in the United States to live. As a quick economics lesson that many of the members of US Congress could learn about, our Terps when they go to the States want to settle in the areas that they have heard have the lowest taxes as they know that they will get to keep more of their own money. Everything in Afghanistan takes more time than things might compared to the States, however it is possible that three of my guys might make it home to the states before we will finish our deployment.
One thing that is kind of frustrating and encouraging regarding our Terps is that is obvious that they are some of the best and brightest young men in Afghanistan. Their families spent money on them to take English lessons at private schools, and for the most part they are pretty smart guys. While good for their individual futures, unfortunately for Afghanistan they want to take their talents and move to the United States. If the smartest young men of Afghanistan want to leave Afghanistan it is going to take a while for this country to even get up to a second world status.
Note: I do not feel comfortable revealing the real names of the interpeters, as Afghanistan can be a dangerous place for Afghans who work for US Forces. So for the purpose of this story I changed their names. Also in pictures that I post I try to avoid putting pictures of my Terps. I would hate to see one of them hurt because of a blog entry of mine.