Translating for the MEU

11 May 2002 | 1stLt Michael W. Armistead

"Monsieur, Monsieur!" yelled excited children with outstretched hands as Lance Cpl Nixon Jean passed out cream-filled cookie treats to a throng of children gathered around a band of Marines just outside the store where another Marine had purchased the "Bon Bons". As he made sure that each and every one of the children present received a cookie, his fellow Marines watched a special bond form between them and the children.
 
Jean, a 19 year-old resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has spoken French all of his life partly because his parents are both from Port-de-Poix, Haiti where French is their second language. Born in the Bahamas, Jean moved to Florida when he was 10 years old and lived there until he finished High School and joined the Marine Corps. He had no way of knowing then that his language skills would provide an opportunity to shine during a recent humanitarian assistance operation conducted by the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) while training in a country located in the Central Command Area of Operations.
Originally, Jean didn't go ashore to serve as a translator. In fact, no one really knew how well he spoke French until he ran into one of his former recruiters, Staff Sgt. Angelo Green, who hadn't seen him since he helped recruit Jean nearly a year and a half ago. Green, also of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., first met Jean as a 17-year old Marine ROTC student while assigned as a recruiter. It was then that Green found out that Jean spoke French. "He is well versed in Haitian Creole and posseses a wealth of knowledge of the French language." Green, who was attached to an artillery unit conducting training near Jean's unit's position, also spoke French and struck up a conversation with Jean. "Once we saw each other, we immediately began to speak French to each other," said Jean.

From that point on, Jean began translating for his unit on issues revolving around the concerns, complaints and curiosities that locals had during the exercise. "Lance Cpl Jean prevented some of the indigenous personnel from herding their goats into an impact area, preventing a possible catastrophe, and saving us valuable training time", shared Staff Sgt Charles Smith, Jean's platoon sergeant. Jean was so effective in the capacity as a translator it was decided that he could assist with a humanitarian assistance mission, unbeknownst to him, that was being planned for a local town near the training area.
Before the advance party team went ashore to lay the groundwork for the mission they were expecting Jean to meet them to help assist in communicating with the locals. Jean, however found out in a much different way. On the day that the advance party was to go ashore, Jean had not yet made it back to USS WASP from the training site. The advance party decided to go ahead without him. Upon their arrival, they quickly realized that they were dead in the water without the assistance of a translator because they couldn't communicate with anyone.

The following day, Jean flew in and was immediately put to work. "I thought that I was back on the ship (from the training area) for good", laughed Jean.  "I had only been on deck of the ship maybe 15 minutes before I heard my name being called over the 1MC to show up at the flight deck to fly back in."

Visibly tired, dirty, and sweaty, Jean dropped his gear moments after arriving into town and was spirited off to meet with the town commissar and the doctor from the clinic. Here he assisted in getting particulars of the Medical and Dental Civil affairs program cleared up as well as make up for lost time.

The Marines quickly noted that Jean communicated with the locals in such a way that they immediately felt comfortable around him. "It was an interesting experience", recalled Jean. "The people were very friendly and willing to help us in any way". He continued to translate for the advance party and even assisted some of the doctors once the MEDCAP and DENCAP began by translating the ailments of some of their patients.

Translating isn't his primary job. Jean is a member of the security platoon for the Maritime Special Purpose Force.  As part of the precision raid team for the 22nd MEU (SOC), Jean's unit could possibly be the ones called upon to conduct an operation in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

When he first joined the Marine Corps however, he had no idea that he would be utilizing his foreign language skills. " It felt good", admitted Jean. "I never thought that I would be helping people [abroad], talking to them as a translator". Is translating a possible future for the Marine? Not likely. "Translating is fun and its fun to talk to people but I would rather be kicking in doors."
Jean plans on exploring the options of trying out for Marine Reconnaissance or the Scout Snipers. Eventually, he intends on going to college to study structural engineering. Listing his favorite books as Tolstoy's War and Peace and Fyodor Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment, Jean is full of surprises. "You should never limit yourself to one thing because you'll never know what your capacity is"

For additional information regarding the 22nd MEU (SOC), visit our website at www.22meu.usmc.mil


22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit