Andersen Airman supports Soldiers in Guatemala
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- When the going gets tough for deployed Soldiers, they often rely on air support provided by Air Force aircraft.
When 76 members of the Texas National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment Task Force Salerno recently deployed to Jutiapa, Guatemala, their Air Force support didn't come in the form of bombs or missiles, but through the essential language skill and translations provided by 1st Lt Irene Mitchell, 36th Medical Group Readiness Flight commander.
Mitchell is one of 458 officers and enlisted Airmen selected to join the Air Force Culture and Language Center's Language Enabled Airman Program in 2014. The program is designed and managed by the AFCLC to sustain, enhance and utilize the existing language skills of Airmen.
The program's goal is to develop a core group of Airmen across specialties and careers with the ability to communicate in one or more foreign languages.
As a native Spanish speaker, Mitchell was offered the opportunity to embed with the task force while the Soldiers conducted border security, drug interdiction, and intelligence training for 220 personnel with the Guatemalan army and National Civil Police from May to August.
Her work as the tactical operations center interpreter established and maintained vital relationships that enabled, among other successes, the smooth execution of vehicle contracts, distinguished visitor visits, safety plans, and meetings with Guatemalan army counterparts.
The LEAP assignment also allowed the Puerto Rico-born Airman to practice her Spanish skills.
"I haven't been immersed in a Spanish speaking culture in the 10 years that I have been in the military," Mitchell said. "The Air Force has given me a tremendous opportunity while at the same time taking advantage of my skills as a native speaker to further strengthen ties with our partners in Central America."
The Regionally Aligned Forces mission was not without its challenges, the medical service corps officer said.
"Being bilingual and being able to translate and interpret are three different things; usually a person is either an interpreter or a translator, not both," she said. "Maintaining the context of what is being conveyed is extremely difficult. Different dialects make the job even more challenging, but at the same time you learn how other cultures communicate differently from yours. Throw in Army infantry lingo and it really gets fun."
The task force enabled the Guatemalan army's Counter Transnational Organized Crime mission by providing training on how to conduct border control operations, command post activities, intelligence to support operations, and sustainment operations. Training also included the medical evacuation of injured personnel to higher echelons of care.
"Having the opportunity to work with the Army infantry has been a great privilege; it's not very often that we get to work with our sister services and see what they do in the field," Mitchell said. "I became part of the unit. I did everything with them; eating, sleeping, physical training. They took me in as one of their own."
In one instance, Mitchell said she translated and presented a plan for setting up road guards to cross a major road between the Guatemalan base and their firing range.
"This is an excellent tool our American partners have shared with us; this road guard plan will be put into place immediately and will be implemented, not only as a lessons learned but as a standard operating procedure for future generations," noted Guatemalan army Col. Edmer Vargas Ortega, intelligence and security commander for the 3rd Infantry Brigade in Jutiapa, during one of their meetings.
Mitchell also translated training documents for the Guatemalan army, including a 30-page book, "The Defense of Duffer's Drift," considered to be a must-read in the infantry world.
"I am very proud and honored to have represented the Air Force and the LEAP in a successful mission with our sister service and our partner nation; hopefully the Army will continue to employ LEAPsters for this mission in the future."
For more information on the LEAP program, visit http://culture.af.mil/leap/.
(Editors Note: Information courtesy of 1st Lt. Irene Mitchell)