FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- A Marine from MEU Service Support Group 22 is using a unique gift to assist the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) with its mission in Afghanistan.
For his efforts, Lance Cpl. Prashant Shah was recently awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for using his extraordinary linguistic skills to assist the MEU to overcome the language barrier between U.S. forces and Afghan locals at Forward Operating Base Ripley.
"Being proficient in several languages, he would coordinate with the drivers and explain to them what to do," said Lt. Col. Benjamin Braden, MSSG-22 Commanding Officer. "For a lance corporal, it's a pretty big mission. He's done outstanding."
Shah speaks not two or three, but six languages - English, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Urdu, and Pashto. Many of Shah comrades initially didn't believe his linguistic prowess - until he started speaking with the natives.
"They say I'm lying," said Shah, speaking of when he talks to other Marines about his gift. "Then they say, 'Alright, talk to this guy.' Then I do."
Being able to speak in languages the locals can understand, Shah has been coordinating with numerous local contractors and trucking agencies that help the construction of Forward Operating Base Ripley continue.
"He's so vital to the logistics mission here," said 1st Lt. Juan Fernandez, the MSSG-22 supply officer. "Without him, we couldn't do it. We get about 20-25 jingle trucks a day. If there's any problems, he'll calm them down."
Part of his skill comes from his upbringing. Originally from Baroda, India, Shah came to Lincoln Park, N.J., in 2001 with his mother. India is a land of 14 official languages and even more dialects.
Many of the languages of the region are related, which allows Shah to pick up similarities between them quickly. Shah said he learned Urdu floating across the Atlantic on the way to Afghanistan by practicing with a fellow Marine who knew the language.
In speaking with the locals, Shah has found the presence of the Marine Corps and other coalition forces a reassuring factor in the lives of the Afghanis.
"They like when we're here because they're not attacked," said Shah. "We give jobs to the locals. I think we're doing a great job. They also feel safe on the roads, especially the truck drivers, because we have checkpoints.
Because of his ethnic background, Shah is a curiosity to local Afghanis. He's often questioned about his military career.
"The first question they ask is how I joined the Marine Corps," said Shah. "The second most asked question is how they can join."
Shah has show great promise with his ambitions in the Marine Corps.
"He's on a good road for success," said Staff Sgt. Kirby Wilson, MSSG-22 supply warehouse chief. "He's on the right path."
Shah is currently pursuing U.S. citizenship in hopes of becoming eligible for the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP) and perhaps one day becoming a Naval aviator.
The 22nd MEU (SOC) is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker for Combined Joint Task Force 76 in the Oruzgan province.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.