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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Qatari finds talent as translator during MNF military exercises

23-year-old computer expert helps Centcom personnel understand Arab language, culture

17 May 2007
By Sgt. 1st Class David Dodds
United States Central Command Public Affairs

DOHA, Qatar -- Mohammed J. Saad couldn’t let anything get lost in translation. The stakes were just too high, he said.

A computer engineer by trade for Qatar Television, the national network here, Saad, 23, had no idea he would be thrust into the role as an English/Arabic translator when he became involved in Eagle Resolve Exercise 2007, which just wrapped up in this city.

The exercise, which is hosted by US Central Command, is an annual event involving the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC: Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates), as well as dozens of other countries, including the United States. Military and civil emergency representatives from the countries use the exercise as an opportunity to train together on emergency response and crisis management scenarios.

Saad, working in the “media cell,” quickly found himself as the go-to interpreter between American military personnel and his Arabic co-workers. Though it wasn’t his primary job, Saad stepped up to the task with no hesitation.

“They just told me that I would be supporting the computer network (for the exercise),” Saad said. “But I love to do this … I love to translate the individual languages.”

He said it’s fun to learn the different dialects and accents that people use.

Saad said the job didn’t come without pressure, however. He said that because of the importance of the exercise, in relation to civil and military defense, and because his work was being used on a multinational level, he had to make sure that all his translations were completely accurate.

He said certain words can take on a whole new, and sometimes erroneous, meaning if they are communicated or written slightly different.

Saad holds a baccalaureates degree in computer engineering from Philadelphia University in Jordan.

Maj. Matt T. Tedesco, a theater air and missile defense expert with US Central Command’s J3 directorate and one of the primary planners for the exercise, said effective communication is key to managing the crises scenarios that are thrown at the participants of the exercise. Translators, such as Saad, and others who understand the Arab culture and who can convey that understanding to non-Arab speakers, are a core resource.

“One of the goals we had for this exercise was information sharing,” Tedesco said. If you can’t communicate what’s going on in the exercise you can’t be successful.”

This year’s Eagle Resolve exercise dealt with missile defense and consequent management scenarios stemming from threats posed by a fictitious rogue nation. Under the watchful eye of American military personnel and Department of Defense civilians, who served as exercise facilitators, the GCC nations worked together to protect their citizenry and to administer the appropriate countermeasures.

The bulk of the exercise took place over a two-week period in early May, in which the GCC representatives under went four days of computer simulated crises scenarios followed by two days of mock drills in the field. The field training included an exploding vehicle and building, emitting hazardous gases, as well as radiation contamination scenarios.

The exercise was aided by the use of dozens of Qatari military basic trainees who served as “victims” of the various mock incidents.

Tedesco said this year’s exercise was a success.

“And that was made possible because of the hard work of both the U.S. and the Qataris,” he said.

Saad was happy to do his part, whether it was working on the computer network, or serving as an impromptu interpreter.

His linguistic skill is even more impressive when one considers that he’s never attended formal schooling for English. Everything he knows about the language he learned from watching American films, listening to American and British music, reading English newspapers and just interacting with English speaking friends.

Saad said his English improved greatly while he was in college, where all of his computer studies were in English. He looks surprised and is genuinely appreciative when people compliment him on his English fluency.

Saad said that he still plans to study English formally some day.

“I think if I had done it already I would have been so so much better,” Saad said

But even now, he’s not too shabby.

Photos: Top: Mohammed J. Saad. Bottom: A Qatari military recruit pretends to be a victim of a vehicle accident as civil emergency responders tend to his injuries and prepare to rush him to a nearby hospital as part of the annual Eagle Resolve Exercise in Qatar in early May. The exercise takes place each year allowing Gulf nations’ military and civil agencies to work with other Gulf countries on emergency response. The U.S. Central Command facilitates and evaluates the training each year. Photos by Sgt. 1st Class David Dodds.

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