Multi-lingual Canadian sailors interpret for Army trainers on Operation UNIFIER

Article / April 1, 2019 / Project number: 19-0083

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By Ryan Melanson, Trident Newspaper

Starychi, Ukraine — A long deployment away from home is nothing unusual for Canadian sailors. There are certain constants they can look forward to, like the daily routines of life at sea, camaraderie with shipmates, and hot soup every morning.

For a group of Royal Canadian Navy members currently deployed on Operation UNIFIER in Ukraine, however, the experience has been a little different.

The mission, which has been ongoing since 2015, focuses in large part on training and support to the Security Forces of Ukraine. This is currently being supported by members of the Canadian Army’s 1e Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment.

Entering the Army environment can be an adjustment for those with Navy backgrounds.

The Trident, the Maritime Forces Atlantic newspaper based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, recently spoke with some of the sailors who have been in Ukraine since mid-September, 2018 as part of Op UNIFIER ROTO 6. For operational security reasons, they will be referred to only by their rank and trade.

“One of the big differences is just that nobody knows what your rank is called,” said a Lieutenant (Navy) working in the Intelligence Section. “You’re just a little different from everybody else, and people might look at you a little strangely until a couple of months pass, people get to know you, and you become part of the team.”

Naval knowledge an asset, even on dry land

He added that his naval experience has also been beneficial on occasion, such as after a recent security incident in the Black Sea/Kerch Strait, an area he was previously familiar with.

“Having the Navy background came in handy in that it enabled me to speak intelligently on the topic and other naval matters that might affect Ukraine.”

Members speaking Ukrainian a definite asset

Another member, a Leading Seaman working as one of six Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) linguists on the mission, said he has enjoyed a deployment that allows for more fresh air and less time below the decks of a ship.

The difference between linguists (sometimes called interpreters) and translators is that the former translates spoken language as it happens, while a translator works with written text.

He added, however, he’s been a bit overwhelmed by the number of people he interacts with each week in his linguist role, and has trouble recalling names, as opposed to speaking with the same colleagues each day during an at-sea deployment.

“I find that part a bit strange. There are people on this deployment who I might not see for weeks at a time,” he said, which usually doesn’t happen in the close quarters of a ship.

Ukrainian-born Canadian sailor chose to become linguist

The most significant part of the deployment for the Leading Seaman, however, has been visiting his homeland. His family moved to Canada from Ukraine in 2002, and he’s been lobbying to join Op UNIFIER as a linguist since Canada began supporting the mission.

“My job is to link people who can only speak English with the people from our host nation and facilitate the dialogue between the two on whatever topic is required,” he said.

“I feel like I have a unique set of skills among CAF members, so I saw it as a chance to utilize that and contribute to the mission,” he continued

“It’s a bit weird being here in uniform, and the country has changed a lot since we left in 2002, but I’m honestly just happy to be useful to the CAF.”

Canadian linguists valuable on many overseas missions

A second linguist on the deployment, a Lieutenant(Navy) who has previously sailed on a six-month Operation REASSURANCE trip, said that while he enjoyed being in a supporting role working alongside Army colleagues, but that he is now looking forward to his next chance to head to sea.

“Every time I would step onto a jetty during my 2015 Op REASSURANCE, it would be a different country with all kind of opportunities to explore. Op UNIFIER has definitely changed my look on operations, and I will definitely appreciate more of what we are doing in Navy.”

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