09 Limas offered fatter bonuses as demand grows
By Michelle Tan - Staff writer
Jun 23, 2008
The Army has begun offering re-enlistment bonuses of up to $29,000 to
09L interpreters and translators, a move made because of the rising
demand for soldiers fluent in critical languages.
The 09 Lima program puts native speakers of Arabic, Dari, Pashtu,
Farsi or Kurdish in uniform to serve alongside troops in combat. The
retention bonuses for 09 Limas recently classified as a critical
military occupational specialty were first offered in March. There
are two re-enlistment options for 09 Limas under the Army's Enhanced
Selective Reenlistment Bonus program. Depending on the category,
bonuses range from $3,000 to $29,000.
When the program began in 2003, "the Army had contract linguists and
Army-trained linguists, but the Army really needed a faster way to
gain more proficiency in language," said Errol Smith, the Army's
assistant deputy for foreign language programs.
The Army has recruited more than 1,260 09 Limas since August 2003. As
the demand for these soldiers continues to grow, officials are
offering fat bonuses to new soldiers in addition to the re-enlistment
Recruits can earn up to $35,000 in enlistment bonuses, depending on
the component, and up to $400 a month in foreign language proficiency
pay, according to Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman.
The 09 Limas are force multipliers, Smith said.
"The difference between a 09 Lima and a civilian contractor is, a 09
Lima is in uniform," he said. "They're considered more trustworthy.
They're in uniform and they've been screened by the Army. They will
do what soldiers do."
An 09 Lima is trained to immediately identify a hostile situation by
observing a person's clothing and gestures. An 09 Lima understands
local slang terms and sayings. An 09 Lima gives his commander a
deeper understanding of the people and culture they are immersed in every day.
"The most important thing in this program is their ability to save
lives, whether it's their fellow soldiers, their commanders or
civilians," Smith said. "They bring an essential skill."
Sgt. Rush he withheld his full name for security reasons deployed
to Iraq from December 2005 to December 2006 with 4th Brigade Combat
Team, 4th Infantry Division, as the brigade commander's linguist. A
native of Morocco and fluent in Arabic, French and English, Rush
enlisted in 2004.
"It meant something to me to put the uniform on, having the flag on
my shoulder," Rush said. "I'm giving back to this wonderful country
that has given me so much. What means so much to me is the difference
we made in the field, being deployed to Iraq, being the bridge
between two different cultures, helping our [noncommissioned
officers], our officers."
The initial goal was to recruit 85 people into the program, according
to Edgecomb. In fiscal year 2003, 58 soldiers were recruited. Every
year since, the annual recruiting goal has been 250 soldiers, and the
Army has met or come close to meeting that goal. So far this fiscal
year, 179 people have enlisted to become 09 Limas.
More than 700 09 Limas have been mobilized for combat in the last
five years, Smith said. Only a small percentage of soldiers who
graduate from basic and advanced individual training don't deploy,
and it's not unusual for 09 Limas to go directly to Iraq or
Afghanistan to join a unit already in theater, Edgecomb said.
Attrition rates for 09 Lima recruits were not available, but those
rates tend to be higher because the soldiers come from a different
cultural background from that of most other new soldiers, compounding
the traditional "culture shock" associated with basic training, Edgecomb said.
A move to consolidate all 09 Lima training at Fort Jackson, S.C., has
decreased attrition, she said.
About 2.5 million Arab Americans are living in the U.S., but not all
of them are eligible for enlistment. Candidates must be U.S. citizens
or permanent residents, and recruits must meet the same
qualifications as any other soldier. They also must score well on
tests measuring their skills in English and their native language.
To boost recruiting and better target its efforts, the Army is
delving into the Arab-American community, Smith said.
Recruiters have conducted outreach programs with imams and local
leaders in New York, Michigan, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
In 2004, the Army hired 21 contract linguists to assist recruiters
across the country.
"They have contributed significantly to our success in reaching out
to the Arab-American communities, which has allowed Army leaders and
recruiters to build relationships with community leaders," Edgecomb said.
The Army also has produced commercials in Arabic. A new commercial is
scheduled to be unveiled later this year, Smith said.
Rush, who is assigned to the Atlanta Recruiting Battalion, is now
part of the recruiting effort.
"Now we play a different role," he said. "We are the ambassadors of
the Army within the community."
He visits places such as mosques, cultural centers and Arabic grocery stores.
"Coming from the field, being deployed, I have credibility when I
stand before them," he said.
Challenges the program faces include a small qualified pool of
applicants and the demand for these language skills from the
military, various government agencies and private contractors who pay
much more than the Army, he said.
"In a perfect world, we'd like to have thousands [of 09 Limas]," Smith said.