39th ABW Airmen bridge language gap between Turkish, U.S. armies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Daniel Phelps
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
A simple internet search can turn up thousands of results explaining the importance of communication in relationships and the threats of miscommunication.

Bridging the communication gap for soldiers supporting NATO's Patriot mission in Turkey are two Turkish-born Airmen from Incirlik: Staff Sgt. Alper Gokten, 39th Logistics Readiness Squadron resource advisor, and Tech. Sgt. Hussein Hamdan, 39th Air Base Wing protocol.

As the Army waited at Incirlik for the go-ahead to move to Gaziantep, Turkey, the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery commander requested for Gokten to be part of the advancement team to help set up the Patriot site, with Hamdan as his replacement.

"I've been privileged to play a big part in helping build relationships between the Turkish and U.S armies here," Gokten explained. "I've also helped them with trips to hospitals so soldiers can explain their medical issues."

Since Gokten arrived on location, he has witnessed the site grow from a patch of dirt to an active missile site. He has also helped coordinate convoys and fuel for generators.

"Seeing the process of the site coming up from scratch, to fully operational and almost settled in, has been amazing," Gokten exclaimed.

The Airmen also work daily issues such as making purchases, phone calls, relaying information and translating papers.

Hamdan is not new to the daily workload as he has served as a translator for several years throughout his Air Force career, deploying to the International Security Assistance Force and being stationed at Incirlik and Izmir Air Station, Turkey.

Translators have to translate to the best general idea, because things won't always translate exactly between languages, Hamdan said. In addition to speaking Turkish and English, he is also fluent in Arabic and French.

"You have to be on top of your game when translating," Hamdan explained. "You have to speak for three people, and ensure you are relaying information the right way by accounting for vocal tones, facial expressions and what they are verbally saying."

Through their work, these translators have also helped the U.S. soldiers understand cultural differences.

"When offered çay (Turkish tea), it's polite to accept," Gokten said. "A lot of the soldiers at first didn't want it, because they didn't like tea but have learned to accept it as an important part of the culture."

Gokten has also played a role in helping the Turkish and American soldiers learn bits and pieces of the other's language. Now when they come to meetings, they will greet one another with the other's custom.

"The key to being a good translator long-term is you have to have good relations with both sides," Hamdan said. "Building relationships is the key."