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Many translators unfit in Afghanistan

[ 2009-07-24 11:52]     字号 [] [] []  
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Josh Habib lay in a dirt field, gasping for air. Two days of hiking with Marines through southern Afghanistan's 46-C heat had exhausted him. This was not what he signed up for.

Habib is not a Marine. He is a 53-year-old engineer from California hired by a contracting company as a military translator. When he applied for the lucrative linguist job, Habib said his recruiter gave no hint he would join a ground assault in Taliban land. He carried 18 kg of food, water and gear on his back, and kept pace - barely - with Marines half his age.

US troops say companies that recruit military translators are sending linguists to southern Afghanistan who are unprepared to serve in combat, even as hundreds more are needed to support the growing number of troops.

Some translators are in their 60s and 70s and in poor physical condition - and some don't even speak the right language.

"I've met guys off the planes and have immediately sent them back because they weren't in the proper physical shape," said Gunnery Sergeant James Spangler, who is in charge of linguists at Camp Leatherneck, the largest US base in Helmand province.

"They were too old. They couldn't breathe. They complained about heart problems," he said. "We almost made a joke of it. We're almost receiving people on oxygen tanks and colostomy bags; it's almost getting to that point."

And that's not the worst of it. Troops say low-skilled and disgruntled translators are putting US forces at risk.

"Intelligence can save Marines' lives and give us the advantage on the battlefield," said Corporal William Woodall, 26, of Dallas, who works closely with translators. "Instead of looking for quality, the companies are just pushing bodies out here, and once they're out the door, it's not their problem anymore."

The company that recruits most US citizen translators, Columbus, Ohio-based Mission Essential Personnel, says it's difficult to meet the increased demand for linguists. Translators are needed to aid the 15,000 US forces being sent to southern, Pashto-speaking provinces this year as part of President Obama's increased focus on Afghanistan. Only 7,700 Pashto speakers live in the US, according to the 2000 census.


1. When Josh Habib is not translating in Afghanistan, what is his job in California?

2. Who is in charge of the linguists at Camp Leatherneck?

3. What is the name of the company that recruits most US citizen translators?


1. An engineer.

2. Gunnery Sergeant James Spangler.

3. Mission Essential Personnel.

(英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Many translators unfit in Afghanistan

About the broadcaster:

Many translators unfit in Afghanistan

Nancy Matos is a foreign expert at China Daily Website. Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, Nancy is a graduate of the Broadcast Journalism and Media program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Her journalism career in broadcast and print has taken her around the world from New York to Portugal and now Beijing. Nancy is happy to make the move to China and join the China Daily team.