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At the same time, it uses costly contractors to work the same jobs for which its own linguists have trained. In Iraq and Afghanistan, private-sector linguists are largely replacing their military counterparts rather than augmenting their numbers, an expensive redundancy. In the fall of , I enlisted in the Army as a cryptologic linguist, one of the soldiers who translate foreign communications.

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A year of college Arabic hadn't been enough to persuade intelligence-agency recruiters of my James Bond potential. Spook agencies assured me during a string of polite job-fair letdowns that the military was the place to start getting real-world experience. So off I went to boot camp.

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More than two years of training followed, both in Arabic and the specific intelligence duties I'd need to perform in-country. I figured I'd be translating captured Arabic communications to alert combat troops of danger.

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So, imagine my surprise when my new team sergeant picked me up at the airfield and mentioned he was a Korean linguist. It turned out that our five-man team had as many Korean speakers as Arabic ones — you know, for all the Korean spoken in the Iraqi desert. It was my first sign that the deployment wouldn't be the one I trained for.

When I arrived for my first shift in-country, I quickly saw who would be turning those purloined insurgent communications into English: a large, middle-aged Arab dude, not me. A native of Mosul, he was one of two contractors who would complete every language-related task required for the rest of our deployment. Meanwhile, the military linguists on my team simply sat to one side, numbly monitoring equipment and our computer screens for uneventful hours on end.

The situation was similar across our unit, the th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. At some sites, linguists functioned as analysts to make up for shortages or operated secret intel equipment that required high-level clearances. At many others, the daily routine was one of whiling away a shift with correspondence courses or a good paperback. I got through 35 books in an eight-month tour, including Tom Ricks' Fiasco.

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In one case, a soldier stationed in Amarah, near the Iranian border, spoke excellent Farsi. If he had been translating insurgent communications, it might have come in handy for his team, given the extent of Iranian infiltration into Iraq. But what did he spend his tour doing? Busywork, mostly, interrupted by watching his buddies play World of Warcraft.

Problems like that were common to all deploying units that my fellow linguists and I knew of. Whether assigned to military intelligence units or attached to infantry brigades, linguists found themselves in any capacity but their own. Often, we waited for something to go wrong with our expensive communications-collections gear, and called the guy whose job it was to maintain the equipment if a glitch required more than flipping a reset switch.

Which it mostly didn't. If that's the way the Army wants it, maybe linguists like me shouldn't actually deploy at all. Those of us who don't go to war zones mostly work at intelligence centers like Maryland's Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency.


Unlike their counterparts overseas, these soldiers routinely work with their adoptive languages while still directly supporting deployed units from afar, like writing reports on collected communications and feeding databases. Providing technical assistance and training for local area networks, maintaining equipment, terminal devices, assigned vehicles, and power generators. The skills, discipline, and leadership experience gained by serving in this MOS can help you transition to a civilian career.

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Signal support systems specialists are primarily responsible for working with battlefield signal support systems and terminal devices. This equipment needs to consistently work in order for the Army to direct the movement of its troops. Those who want to serve must first take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a series of tests that helps you better understand your strengths and identify which Army jobs are best for you.

Job training for a signal support systems specialist requires 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training and 16 weeks of Advanced Individual Training with on-the-job instruction. Part of this time is spent in the classroom and in the field. Total compensation includes housing, medical, food, special pay, and vacation time. Learn more about total compensation. Visit Jobs in Demand to see if this job qualifies for an enlistment bonus. In the Army, qualified students can earn full-tuition, merit-based scholarships, allowances for books and fees, plus an annual stipend for living expenses.

Learn more about education benefits. The skills you learn will help prepare you for a career with companies that produce communications and electronic equipment. Additional study and two years of electronics experience will also qualify you for certification as an Associate Certified Electronics Technician. Those interested in this job may be eligible for civilian employment, after the Army, by enrolling in the Army PaYS program.

The PaYS program is a recruitment option that guarantees a job interview with military friendly employers that are looking for experienced and trained Veterans to join their organization. A multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer works directly on equipment that communicates through more than one channel. They are responsible for the maintenance check of these devices, antennas and associated equipment. Satellite communication systems operator-maintainers are responsible for making sure that the lines of communication are always up and running.


They maintain the multichannel satellite communications for the entire Army. Microwave systems installer-maintainers are primarily responsible for installing, operating and maintaining microwave communications systems. They also work with associated antennas, multiplexing and communications security equipment.

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