If you are a native speaking soldier — especially in the Persian dialects of Dari, Pashto and Farsi — you could earn up to $1,000 a month and be in on the ground floor of a new Army military occupational specialty.

If you are a native speaking soldier — especially in the Persian dialects of Dari, Pashto and Farsi — you could earn up to $1,000 a month and be in on the ground floor of a new Army military occupational specialty.
The 09L Interpreter/Translator MOS program was established to recruit native and heritage speakers of specified foreign languages to serve as interpreter/translators. The 09L MOS is open for enlistment into the active component, the Army National Guard, the Army Reserve and the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Soldiers who enlisted as 09L have supported operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Africa.
Fort Polk is home to the 52nd Translator/Interpreter Company, one of two such companies in the Army. The other is located at Fort Irwin, Calif. At Fort Polk, the 52nd TICO is part of the 5th Battalion, 353rd Infantry Regiment, 162nd Infantry Brigade. The company is charged with providing flexible, uniformed, native/heritage language interpretation and regional cultural awareness support to maneuver forces through the Army element of the combatant command. The company provides cultural awareness training in support of units and entering the theater of operation.
Capt. Kelley Galloway is the 52nd TICO commander. Galloway, a military intelligence branch officer, said the 09L field is looking for recruits to fill its allotments.
“Since 09L is a new field, we’ve had to draw our NCOs from other military intelligence MOSs until we can train our young soldiers to be leaders,” Galloway said. “That’s one of the reasons there is a push to find those native speakers who are already on active duty and would like to change MOS. Hopefully, some of the soldiers who want to transfer are NCOs who are also native speakers.”
An added benefit for soldiers who volunteer to use their native-speaking ability is proficiency pay — up to $400 for one language or $1,000 a month for multiple languages — depending on the soldier’s skill level.
“I think an extra $400 a month is a pretty good incentive to at least check out the 09L MOS,” Galloway said. “And even if the soldier decides they don’t want to change their MOS, if they are proficient in certain foreign languages, they can be tested and earn pro pay based on their language and skill level.
Galloway said the soldiers of the 52nd TICO are all native speakers and put their skills to good use both at Fort Polk and in Iraq and Afghanistan. They maintain their proficiency when not deployed in the unit’s language lab or through classes led by Forces Command instructors such as Ahmad Saboor Bahrami, Ph. D. Bahrami recently led a class in the Afghanistan language of Dari — a dialect of Persian Farsi.
“Most of the time when I teach a 16-week class like this, I expect my students to earn a skill level of 0+,” Bahrami said. “But these students seem more interested and have a better grasp of the language, so I expect them to be at skill level 1+ or 2.”
Army language skill levels range from 0 (no proficiency) to 5 (functionally native proficiency).
Bahrami, a native of Afghanistan, said he enjoys teaching soldiers and appreciates what they do to help his country of birth.
“I want to help them (soldiers) help themselves, their friends, the U.S. Army and the Afghanistan communities they go to serve,” he said.
Galloway said his soldiers’ mission can vary based on the needs of the unit they are attached to or whether they are deployed or in garrison. In each instance, their native speaking abilities and cultural knowledge is invaluable.
“Sometimes we’ll have one or two soldiers attached to a unit for a deployment,” Galloway said. “They might be used to check translated documents to ensure everything is correct, to advise the commander on what he can expect when meeting with village elders or serve as an interpreter when visiting with community members.”
In garrison, 09Ls become valuable roleplayers for the 162nd Infantry Brigade as it trains Security Force Assistance Teams prior to their deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“When used as roleplayers, they give SFATs a first-hand look at what they can expect to see and experience when they deploy,” Galloway said.
“They’ve been there and they have the institutional knowledge that comes with being a native," he said. "We are the cultural and language experts for the Army. Some of our soldiers haven’t lived in the U.S. very long. We represent about 18 countries, the major ones being Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.”
Spc. Alex Moore speaks Persian Farsi, Dari and Turkish and recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.
“Knowing the language, I can help other soldiers on the battlefield,” he said. “I’m like a bridge between U.S. soldiers and the Afghani people or soldiers. I can also help them understand the culture. It’s a great job.”
Spc. Imad Almaliki just returned from a deployment to Iraq and speaks Arabic Iraqi.
“I was proud to go back to Iraq and serve my new country,” he said. “There were some mixed emotions, returning to your home country, but serving your new country. You see the destruction there and that hurts, but you turn the page and serve those people to help establish a democratic foundation. You feel proud for what you do.”
Almaliki said his job is not just as a language translator.
“It’s cultural, non-verbal and active listening to the other side,” he said. “It’s a whole package. You translate the emotion to the commander. And you do it both ways; the Iraqis also need to know the U.S. culture.”
Spc. Sally Khir, from Egypt, recently returned from a deployment with the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq. As the only female with the 82nd Abn Div, Khir said she played an invaluable role.
“I worked with S2, translating and offering cultural advice, especially concerning females,” she said. “I did a lot of civil affairs work with females.”
Khir said the Afghani females were happy to have a female to speak with.
“Sometimes they were scared to talk to men soldiers,” she said. “I was able to explain to our commanders how they should speak to and treat women.”
Galloway said that if any soldier on Fort Polk would like to learn more about MOS 09L or getting qualified in a language, they can visit his unit at bldg 7801C on North Fort or call 653-3846.
“Give us a call,” he said. “We’ll do what we can to help soldiers who are interested in becoming language qualified or checking out MOS 09L.”