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'There I Was': Helping our human race by doing my civic duty

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Bernie Torres
  • 6th Force Support Squadron
As a member of the Armed Forces, when you hear the word deployment, many thoughts go through your mind. First and foremost, the time spent away from family, then the stress of out-processing, and finally the wrapping up of the little details. During this particular deployment, I was tasked as a Spanish Linguist for the Navy lead "Continuing Promise 2011." The CP11 is a civil-military operation which includes humanitarian civic assistance, subject matter expert exchange, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support, and disaster response to partner nations. Through these missions, the United States shows its support and commitment to Latin America and the Caribbean.

With a joint Army tasking deployment under my belt, I felt very confident I would be able to integrate easily with the Navy. I arrived at Norfolk Naval Station, Va., as a one-man team with orders to report to the USNS Comfort (T-AH20) and join my linguist team. It didn't take long to realize, I was way out of my comfort zone. Immediately, I was submerged in Navy terminology. It's not a boat; it's a ship. It's not the DFAC; it's a Mess Deck and always pay attention to the 2MC or loudspeaker. I learned calling a higher ranking Petty Officer "Sir" was a big No-No. It took me a couple of weeks to comfortably navigate the P-ways (halls) of the massive USNS Comfort because the halls all looked the same. To say the least, it was challenging. I really have to thank my Navy counterparts. They were always very helpful and ready to lend a helping hand to a confused Airman.

Our team included three officers, eight enlisted and one Navy reservist. With mission stops in Jamaica, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Haiti, we were busy. A linguist is the focal point for everything from translating customs forms, welcome letters and distinguished visitor food menus to planning visits to the ship. We reviewed all speeches ensuring the original message wasn't lost in translation. The team was also rotated ashore to perform translation duties during our mission stops. I had the pleasure to work with U.S. and, foreign military, civilian doctors as well as medical specialists who were providing support to the local population within the different Medical Civic Action Program. I assisted local nurses, doctors, and students in the teaching and exchanging of ideas during subject matter exchange sessions. I was also given the opportunity to assist the director and members of the very professional U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Band during special events, news outlets and performances.

My days were long. Sometimes, I worked up to 18 hours translating between patients and medical staff as well as providing verbal comfort to patients both ashore and on the ship. To say my days and my deployment were boring would be the biggest lie of my life. We touched so many lives and helped so many people. We connected and immersed ourselves into their culture. We worked together to provide a global force for good. I can honestly say this was my best deployment, not because in the process I became a "Shellback" (Navy tradition when you cross the Equator), or the wonderful places I got to see and the many people I met or the friends I made along the way, but because "there I was" helping our human race by doing my civic duty.