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The power of speaking a foriegn language (or two).

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  • The power of speaking a foriegn language (or two).

    With the occasional language question posted on this forum, I wanted to relate something that happened while I was in Iraq that involved languages.

    We were tasked to run convoy security from Anaconda (Balad) to Speicher (Tikrit) and had gone through all of the normal staging. We had moved to the area where we were to link up with all the civilian drivers (of various nationalities) that were driving the trucks we were to provide security for. This mission was not a KBR run, so none spoke any english. There was a mix of local nationals, Turks, Arab speakers (from various countries), Kurds, and a few others.

    These guys only get paid when they arrive at the next location, so they are always motivated to get on the road, but we were delayed. Several locations on our route were being cleared of IED's, and the route was closed. It was early enough in the evening that they (convoy management) had not scrubbed the mission. But there were a lot of drivers who did not know what was going on, and were impatient.

    As part of the convoy leadership it was my task to try and calm some nerves and get some info out (not something that happened normally when it involved local nationals...) So I had my driver make an ice run, and got all the truckers to gather together to hand out ice (also not a common thing to happen). I tried using drawings in the dirt to explain what was going on, but that was not really working. Then I did what is normal for most in this type of situation - fell back on previous language experience.

    First I asked if anyone spoke english - nothing but blank stares, then laughing I asked "Parla Italiano?" again nothing. Then I pulled out the, "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" and got a response.

    One of the Turk drivers had worked a lot in Germany, and spoke better German than I did. I used my best attempt at forgotten German to explain the delay and our plan to drive once we got a "go" - he in turn translated this to a Kurd who spoke Turkish and Arabic - who then translated to the Arab speakers. Afterward the group was all smiles from having ice and an understanding of what was going on.

    I got invited for some Turkish chai, and some instruction on basic words in Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic and some dancing (yeah I said dancing). We ran the mission without incident, and all was well. Prior to departing there were a lot of handshakes from the drivers (not common at all) and word after that was many drivers were requesting to be on our convoy security runs.

    Good times ;^) It is highly recommended to everyone to learn some level (from basic on up) of some foriegn language, you just never know when one will help you get the job done...
    Last edited by LRSU_Dog; February 7th, 2011, 01:11 AM.

  • #2
    Re: The power of speaking a foriegn language (or two).

    Good story.....hmmmm, Turkish and Kurdish you say????


    • #3
      Re: The power of speaking a foriegn language (or two).

      I had a local national convoy of half a dozen drivers waiting on me one time. We had a language barrier as well. I just went to the chow tent and got them a plate of food (no pork, that would be gratutiously cruel). They get far less nervous and crabby when their stomachs are full. Later, I brought them each an ice cream sandwich. You never saw such a reaction! I should tell GEN Petraeus about how we can win more hearts & minds using frozen desserts. For some of them, I think it was the first time they had eaten ice cream - particularly because one of the drivers ate half and put the rest in his pocket for later. One of his colleagues saw this, and explained that he would not be happy with that COA.