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Throughout the history of the United States of America, the various branches of the United States Military – the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines – have had a high demand for civilians that work as interpreters. There are a huge number of tasks that interpreters might be assigned to, and many interpreters that work for the United States military branches are generally catch-all specialists that are quite adept at adjusting to new situations and new sources of content to interpret, given that the goals and initiatives associated with protecting American interests and projecting military power change on a frequent basis. Civilian interpreters are needed for nearly every language that is spoken in the world, and polyglots – individuals that possess expert fluency in a multitude of languages – are considered to be extremely desirable by the United States military. Civilians that work as interpreters for the United States military do not necessary need to be former members of the military. In fact, most of them are not. Generally, an interpreter needs to be fluent in one or more languages other than English, needs to be reasonably well educated, and must be able to acquire a security clearance.
Interpreters perform a wide variety of tasks for the United States military. For instance, some interpreters will be ‘embedded’ with troops that are located ‘on the ground’, or deployed in the field. These interpreters will be responsible for relaying information and communications between locals that speak languages other than English and their commanders. In these instances, the interpreter plays an extremely important role, since the interactions with locals will often be key in determining the safety of the troops located in that region, and the tone and manner of conversation that occurs might make the difference between endearing American forces to the local population, or triggering hostilities between the locals and American forces. Hence, a large amount of responsibility is placed on interpreters in these situations. In other cases, interpreters will serve at military bases around the world, and will be tasked with monitoring intercepted communications from various groups, organizations, and persons that are of interest to the United States military. These communications might be in the form of e-mails, text messages, phone calls, or radio wave transmissions. Interpreters will be expected to rapidly render these foreign communications into English text transcripts, which are held to extremely high levels of scrutiny in terms of accuracy and clarity. In almost every case, interpreters will be expected to spend some time ‘checking’ the work of other interpreters, in order to determine that the information that has been translated to English is actually correct. Ensuring the accuracy of information that is obtained from non-English communications intercepts is of crucial importance, given that a misunderstanding of such information can lead to disastrous consequences for the United States, including unnecessary risk of lives, potential embarrassment, and even unnecessary escalation of a military conflict. Additionally, American civilian interpreters within the United States military may work with other intelligence experts in order to analyze, sort, and categorize public sources of media from around the world. This information can be used to render a more clear image of the global state of affairs, including global public opinion concerning actions taken by the United States at home and abroad. Civilian interpreters that work for the United States military will also be responsible for translating intercepted documents or schematics that relate to foreign military hardware, strategy, actions, and anything else that is of strategic interest to the United States.
Interpreters will also be employed by the United States military to engage in public image campaigns abroad. This can include the creation of flyers, posters, public bulletins, radio broadcasts, and other forms of media that inform the public about the US military presence in the area, and seek to reassure the public that the US military is not interested in disrupting their way of life in any significant manner. This form of community outreach is key to helping maintain stability in war torn regions of the world. In addition, these kinds of media are important in publicizing the fact that the US military often becomes involved in humanitarian relief efforts after disasters that happen in foreign countries. In these instances, it is important that interpreters do their best to inform the local population that the American armed forces that they see among them are not hostile, but rather are interested in providing aid in the form of food, clean water, health care, and other essential items and services. This helps put the local populations at ease, since their only previous experience with military forces may have been violent, and hence, they might be inherently distrustful of any armed forces. In addition, in many regions of the world, individuals have probably never met an American, and Americans are sometimes viewed as both objects of envy, as well as a force to be feared, given that the United States possesses global ‘superpower’ status, and by far the most advanced and well-trained military in the world.
The United States military needs civilian interpreters for an extremely wide number of languages, including many languages that one might not expect. The more uncommon the language, the more demand the military probably has for interpreters that speak that language. In addition, there is currently a huge demand for individuals that speak various dialects of Arabic, as well as those that speak Hindi, Urdu, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Of course, other South and Southeast Asian languages are also currently in high demand. However, if you feel you are a qualified candidate, you should never be dissuaded from attempting to seek employment as an interpreter, as new individuals are needed on a regular basis.
Working as an interpreter for the United States military is an extremely rewarding career path that provides an insider view of a side of the US military that most individuals never get to see, including those that are uniformed military personnel.