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What Does an Air Force Linguist Do?

By C. Webb
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An Air Force linguist decodes information for the military that is sent in other languages. Linguists are used to understand and translate documents, radio messages, and other forms of communication sent among foreign entities. The Air Force linguist is typically stationed abroad.

Also called a cryptologic linguist, the Air Force linguist is expected to become fluent in at least one foreign language that will be beneficial to the government. The languages learned are not just home languages of nations at war. Some linguists learn the languages of allies to the enemy, or languages of countries that have foreign policies differing from their country's foreign policies. An Air Force linguist is typically required to hold a variety of security clearances that show the linguist can be trusted with confidential information.

Examples of languages learned by Air Force linguists include Spanish, Farsi, Russian, Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean. Hours of work for an Air Force linguist are varied, as he or she is expected to be available day or night to translate and decode radio and written communications. Some linguists specialize in specific communication styles, such as intelligence information, while others generalize and work as translators with non-high security documents.

In addition to reading, writing, and speaking designated foreign languages, Air Force linguists must be able to operate different types of communication equipment. Searching out new frequencies to discover intelligence information is one duty of the linguist. Linguist training is typically provided by the Air Force, though the candidate is usually required to have at least a high school diploma or GED and some college credits, preferably with a foreign language concentration.

Operating direction-finding equipment, analysis of transcripts, and translation of telephone conversations are also duties of the Air Force linguist. In addition, alerting higher officials to detected threats is a primary responsibility of the linguist. He or she must also be able to analyze and distinguish what information should be labeled priority.

Training for linguists is usually provided by the Air Force and begins right after boot camp. Advancement for linguists is based on rank, pay scale, and seniority. A linguist can be stationed anywhere in the world to perform his or her job duties. Once discharged from military duty, he or she can usually find employment as translator.

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