Fostering Partnership with Host Nation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt Nicholas Ross
  • 380 Air Expeditionary Wind

Strong communication is key to establishing and maintaining global partnerships. While serving in a foreign country, being able to bridge potential language barriers is critical to that communication.

Muthana Al Mahdawi and Ghazi Assali are two of the translators assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. Al Mahdawi is from San Diego, California and Assali is from New Orleans, Louisiana.

“We are the frontline filter of the American image,” said Al Mahdawi.

Assali started his linguist career in 1998, after one of his professors told him of a job opening.

“I thought I was going to stay for one year but then I really liked the job and had established great relationships with the security forces leadership,” said Assali. “You go on from there thinking it’s going to be one year, then another year and then things start happening like 9/11, Global War on Terror, and New York. It becomes a mission and a job on top of supporting the family.”

One of the day-to-day tasks for the linguists is to translate and filter different forms and requests to the Emiratis Air Force for approval.

“We have about 18 different types of forms and requests that all should be filtered to the Emirati entry gate,” said Al Mahdawi. “The forms like OCN (Other Country National) passes, laptop passes, material entry passes, document translation, after-hours work passes and special requests.”

The linguists are available around the clock to address issues as they arise.

“The Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC) or the Emirati gate can call us 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Assali. “We try to prevent cultural differences from escalating into an international incident.”

Prudently explaining to the host nation and local population why ADAB requires these various things is a big part of the linguists’ role. Understanding the Emirati culture is an important part of that process.

Certain cultural nuances that may seem important to U.S. Airmen might not be so with the Emiratis and what Airmen consider normal behavior might be illegal in the UAE. This difference in cultural norms can led to problematic issues involving base personnel.

An example is the use of profanity. For some, swearing is a part of our everyday vocabulary, even if it’s not directed at an individual person. Swearing in public is prohibited in the UAE, with the use of the “F-bomb” considered a crime, as it ‘disgraces the honor or the modesty’ of a person according to Article 373 of the UAE Penal Code. Swearing is punishable by up to a year in prison, a fine as high as 10,000 dirhams and possible deportation.

Swearing on any social media or messaging platform breaches UAE’s cyber laws.

Establishing bonds with host nation personnel will help minimize and solve problems. “Before COVID we were invited to break Ramadan Fast with them,” said Assali. “With something like this you help build that personal bond. Usually they see us when there is a problem. They prefer to not only see us when issues arise.”

Other tasks for the linguists include helping with personnel search training or K-9 vehicle search training between U.S.A.F. security forces and Emirati military police, as well as assisting with commander-level meetings with the Emiratis.

“If my commander or operation officer wants to meet with the Emiratis about something, usually I ask them what they want to talk about,” said Al Mahdawi. “Then I’ll advise him on the best course of action to bring their ideas to the Emiratis.”

Without linguist like Al Mahdawi and Assali, Al Dhafra Air Base would not be able to function at the high-pace at which it does. The ability for both militaries to effectively communicate and work together is vital to maintaining a good working relationship with the host nation.