Saturday, April 11, 2009

NATO Night Fever, Stayin Alive, Stayin Alive

Many linguists, hired as contractors, previously held important positions within Afghanistan before their families fled. Some were university professors, some were doctors, others were government officials; it runs the gamut. It's very interesting to hear about their past Afghan lives. From my observations, there is a subculture of linguist hierarchy on US bases, based on their prior Afghan status, and related to their present status. For example, translators who work for Generals, Colonels, or are considered the primary translators for high profile meetings with Afghan Ministers, Governors, etc., hold greater status than other linguists down the food chain. Think in terms of an unofficial military rank, civilian style. Makes sense right?

Well, an acquaintance has taken to referring to his fellow Afghan linguists, by nickname. You know, like we use "Bubba" and "Dawg". He has christened three linguists in particular as SuperZ, ZZ, and EZ. Their first names begin with a Z, so I was impressed by his use of humor and creativity in coming up with these nicknames. Each nickname is designated for its own reason that only he is privy to.

We were recently having a discussion of a serious nature, solving the war and all, and talk turned to Afghan linguists. With a serious tone, he said, "You know, EZ is a member of NATO". I paused, feeling honored to be let in on EZ's status. I've seen EZ around so I know who he is.

EZ is a self assured middle-aged Afghan, who is held in high regard (by fellow Afghans) due to his seniority in theatre and current position. He's like a BMOC (Big Man On Campus) at a university, and I gather, is a ladies man. His appearance is akin to a Saturday Night Fever disco character.

His linguist "uniform" is accentuated by a thick gold chain, satin, unbuttoned pointy collared shirt, and topped off with a black fedora hat, brim turned down - to cover his bald spot? Don't get me wrong, It's perfectly alright to still be living in the 80's back in the US, I see it all the time. But in Afghanistan?

Needless to say, beyond EZ's appearance, I was impressed. I expected the linguist to continue, feeding us more details, telling us how EZ travels to Kabul to translate for our NATO partners. We waited for him to go on.

After a short, well timed pause, he continued..."Yes, EZ's like NATO...all talk, no action"! Those present were so taken aback by his statement, we laughed! But beyond the reference to EZ, I took it also as his opinion of NATO, an entity I had never given much thought to while in theatre....hmmm.

Teachers: What is NATO, who can join? Who are our Coalition partners? What are allies? Who are our allies? Can the students relate to nicknames? Research the reasons military pilots use nicknames as their call-signs. These are positive, acceptable nicknames, are there negative nicknames?


  1. OK - I'm still laughing at the picture in my head of the 80's style interpreter....

  2. Hi Teach. I found your site through's email about twitter. I like what you've done with it. I think NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was created after WWII by 4 countries, UK, US, France, and (oh my, I forgot!) um...West Germany(?). Europeans joined, but since its inception, France has eased out and has not participated like they should.

    It's nice to know who your allies are BEFORE you end up in a war rather than after, but what can we do? Everyone says France is an ally. HA! They fight us at the UN all the time. I suppose this is because of the corrupt Chirac who had is hand in the Iraqi till. So did many others.

    Ally=Someone who does not want you dead, and will fight with you to make sure you win a war.

    Enemy=Someone who wants to destroy you, kill you, steal your land, stand against with your enemies, etc.

    We have coalition partners from Poland, Czeck Republic, Japan, UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada, some African countries, and the Germans are only allowed to fire if they are fired upon. If they see OBL, they can't shoot him unless he fires at them. I don't consider that much of an ally.

    Oh my, I'm carryinig on again. Just wanted to say hello and let you know how much we in America and at my home appreciate what you are doing to keep us safe. We understand you have sacrificed much, but we could never comprehend how much. Thank you, Teach. God bless you!

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