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NEWS | April 7, 2020

Utah Guard linguists overcome language gap during pandemic

By Ileen Kennedy Utah National Guard

DRAPER, Utah – As Utah confronted the COVID-19 pandemic and a succession of earthquakes, linguists in the Utah National Guard helped communicate clear and concise messages to everyone affected in a dozen languages.

“The 300th Military Intelligence Brigade has one of the largest concentrations of proficient linguists in the world,” said Maj. Aaron Sutliff, director of the Excellence in Language Training Center, Command Language Program Manager, 300th Military Intelligence Brigade. “Our Soldiers join the military because they want to serve. They are committed to fighting the global pandemic by applying our language translation skills to help the non-English speaking communities.”

Soldiers in the 300th MI are proficient in more than 50 languages, serving as interpreters, translators and intelligence professionals in a dozen countries around the world each year.

Utah’s diverse culture includes many communities with high concentrations of non-English speakers. These communities can pose communication challenges for government agencies trying to dispel false rumors and spread important health information.

“It is important for us to assist partner government agencies to increase information awareness across communities with high concentrations of non-English speakers,” Sutliff said. “Local health departments and health care providers requested assistance to reach these smaller communities.”

The Utah Public Health Department asked that 17 documents be translated into 15 languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Nepali, Russian, Karen, French, Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Burmese, Farsi and Korean.

Kinyarwanda, Somali and Swahili were the only languages not supported by Utah National Guard linguist teams at this time.

“It has been really helpful to have the support of the Guardsmen working on this project,” said Kelsey Price, director of communications and marketing, Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. “It’s been instrumental in supporting the state’s efforts to spread awareness in underrepresented communities about steps people can take to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

Initially, the Division of Emergency Management provided five documents consisting of more than 4,100 words to be translated into Spanish in a short timeframe.

Spc. Logan Jensen, a Spanish and Chinese linguist with the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion, and 2nd Lt. Joseph Kline, a Spanish linguist with the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion, worked 18 straight hours while in self-quarantine. From their respective homes, they divided up the documents and reviewed each other’s work for accuracy.

“Part of the reason I joined the National Guard was being able to serve close to home,” Jensen said. “This opportunity to combine my language ability and technological competency in order to clearly communicate critical information to Utah’s non-English speaking population in times of crisis is one of the most meaningful aspects of serving as a linguist in the Utah Army National Guard.”

They were able to finish the urgent translation in less than 24 hours.

“The ability to contribute to our great state of Utah at a moment’s notice by employing the language abilities the Guard cultivates in me is exactly why I joined the Utah National Guard,” Kline said. “I’m proud to be a part of this great organization.”



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