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The long road to 09 Lima

JALALABAD, Afghanistan – When Acheson was a young boy in Iran, he used to watch a lot of American movies and wanted to be that special investigator or FBI agent who figured out the crime plot and caught the bad guys.

“But I am a guy who was born in Iran and lived in Turkey and who is going to take me with my background?” questioned Jahan Acheson, 23, using his pseudonym.

Four years ago Acheson fled Iran via the town of Tabriz, where a contact arranged for him and some 20 other Iranians to cross the border into Turkey.

 “We crossed a river and got fake passports. It has been two years and five days now,” explained Acheson, the experience of the trip burned into memory. But things didn’t go as planned. Acheson had no intention of staying in Turkey and bought a small rubber boat to cross over to the small Greek island of Kos.

“But we got caught,” recounted Acheson, who traveled with several others who had refugee status documentation in Turkey. But with no papers, Acheson was forced to jump into the water and swim back to mainland, to save himself from being deported back to Iran. “I had no documents and they would have sent me back home where military training is mandatory for two years, and if you don’t serve, you have no rights, you can’t marry, you can’t purchase or sell anything.”

A few months later, Acheson was fortunate enough to meet an American Soldier at an Army base in Turkey, who took him under his wing and informed him of the 09 Lima Army Combat Interpreter-Translator (MOS 09L) program. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center has supported the training for native and heritage speakers of designated strategic languages of interest for the Army since the program’s inception in July 2003. More than 1,200 Soldiers have graduated from the program supporting the need for various dialects of Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Kurdish, and Persian Farsi. 

On the ground in Jalalabad, in the eastern part of the country, Acheson and his colleague Spc. Hafiz King, a native of Afghanistan, spend their days interpreting for their commanders, working with local hire translators to ensure the quality of work, and interacting with the Afghan border patrol, Afghan National Army Soldiers, and locals.

“I like my job because I feel productive here and I feel that I am making a difference,” said King, who is from the Afghan capital of Kabul and has been living in the United States for 20 years.

Both Acheson and King say they are proud to be a part of the war fighting effort in Afghanistan and to be able to contribute to the transition of authority from Allied forces to Afghan military and government control. “We really enjoy working in Jalalabad because our skills are being properly used,” said King.

“I always wanted to work for the FBI or Secret Service. And it is not about money. I could work as a contractor, but I wanted a special job in the U.S. government, using my skills,” explained Acheson, referring to a large number of contract linguists, who earn more than those enlisted in the U.S. military when working in a war-zone.

“This is a good move for me. I have a clearance, I can work and get the job I want, maybe in human intelligence. My goal is to finish my education. Right now I am trying to get my general education credits out of the way,” he said.

 Story and photos by Natela Cutter, DLIFLC

Caption: Spc. Hafiz King and Spc. Jahan Acheson talk in Dari with an Afghan border policemen in their office at Forward Operating Base Fenty, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. King and Acheson closely monitor contract translators and discuss quality control of the work with their supervisor 1st. Lt. Melvin Gomez.

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