[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                     March 13, 2009

Soldiers use language proficiency 
to accomplish mission

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

"Ogaf!" and "Thib slaaHak!" are a seemingly strange arrangement of letters. They may be, however, very vital for the survival of a U.S. Army Soldier.

Photo: Spc. Mariam El Bakari teaches Sailors how to say Arabic phrases in a language and cultural awareness class in a Fort McCoy classroom. (Photo by Tom Michele)
Spc. Mariam El Bakari teaches Sailors how to say Arabic phrases in a language and cultural awareness class in a Fort McCoy classroom. (Photo by Tom Michele)  

Soldiers are using those strange arrangements as they encounter the people of the foreign lands they are engaged in.

"Understanding language has been a matter of survival for people since the beginning of human civilization thousands of years ago," said Cpl. Ako Akheri, a language and cultural awareness instructor at the 340th Training Support Battalion (TSB) of the 181st Infantry Brigade conducting mobilization training at Fort McCoy.

"People learn a language to stay out of trouble," Akheri said. "People communicate by looking at body language. People look at your face when they first try to understand you. When you smile, they smile. When you cry, they cry. You express yourself by body language. When you look at someone with a serious or angry expression, they defend themselves."

Mobilizing Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors attend one or more language and cultural awareness sessions to become more accustomed to what they likely will encounter in a foreign country, most likely at the present time either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Back to "Ogaf!" and "Thib slaaHak." "Ogaf is the first Arabic word we teach Soldiers," Akheri said. "It means ‘stop.’" The other phrase means ‘put your weapon down.’

Soldiers are given a page of the 15 most- common phrases they are likely to need to use in those two countries. Included are: ‘Hands up!’ ‘What is your name?’ ‘ Stop the vehicle,’ and others.

The language and culture instructors spend one hour just going over this page; working on pronouncing each phrase, the Soldier in turn uttering it. They repeat this a dozen times. The instructor then has the students set the paper down and asks the students "How do you say, ‘Show me your identification?’" The Soldier should respond, ‘Shawufnee haweetak.’

Spc. Mariam El Bakari, an Arabic language instructor for the 340th TSB, along with Akheri, who teaches Afghan dialects of Farsi and Pashto, explained Soldiers will use these 15 common phrases right away."

"Soldiers need to be ready and focused wherever they go," El Bakari said. "This language and cultural awareness class is one of many keys to Soldiers being successful in their mission. It is important to learn and respect that culture and beliefs so the Soldiers’ mission is not complicated."

"The 181st respects what we do (as language instructors)," El Bakari said. "The 181st tells us our job is very important. I know I am very lucky to be here. I love doing this for the Soldiers."

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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