Gathering personnel and delegates from 38 African nations, five European and North American nations and several African and international organizations — many who speak different languages — to participate in a large-scale, joint military training exercise can present unique challenges.
Among these trials is a gap in communication as wide as the continent of Africa itself.
Interpreters provide the vital bridge over this gap during Exercise Africa Endeavor 2013 — U.S. Africa Command's annual, multilateral 10-day scenario-driven communications exercise, Aug. 6 to 15, in Lusaka, Zambia.
The primary language of Africa Endeavor is English. However, the official language of many African nations is French, or Portuguese, so much translation is needed to ensure that everyone is operating in synch.
"Africa Endeavor is an opportunity to learn from each other's experiences and build that interoperability in joint, multinational, multilingual, peace-keeping operations," said Mustapha "Mus" Kjaouj, public affairs language specialist, AFRICOM. "Different language speaking nations communicating via interpreters is in many cases the only way they can interact."
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Bryan McRoberts, exercise director of Africa Endeavor, AFRICOM, echoes that sentiment adding that overcoming the language barrier and understanding cultural differences is a key objective to Africa Endeavor.
"Many of the participants of Africa Endeavor have no other opportunity to meet their colleagues and counterparts from across the continent," McRoberts said.
Kjaouj, a Morocco native who served in the U.S. Army, translates presentations, briefs and conversations back and forth from English to French and Portuguese during the exercise, and is also fluent in Arabic.
Joined by Kjaouj as an African native serving an important role to Africa Endeavor is Missouri Army National Guard 1st Lt. Pesseglou Yoma. Born in Togo, Yoma is also on hand at Africa Endeavor to translate to and from his native language of French.
"Having interpreters here makes it a very good experience for non-English speaking personnel," Yoma said. "It can be challenging, but it adds to the overall sense of community here at Africa Endeavor."
The benefit of the interpreters is not lost in translation on participants who don't speak English.
"Translators are vital for non-English speaking participants," said Lt. Rodolphe Maxime Ockandji of the Republic of Congo, through the translation of Yoma. "Even though they may be learning English in their native countries, they don't yet have the English-speaking skills to interact without an interpreter. The interpreters have done an outstanding job to help the non-English speakers learn and have input here as well."
Translating multiple languages on the fly and rewriting briefs and presentations in a different language comes at no small cost.
"By the end of the day, I'm wiped out," said Kjaouj.