Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Shinn, Atlantic Area public affairs.
Relationships between the United States and countries in Central and South America are critical to the Coast Guard’s continuing efforts to intercept the flow of drugs in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, key maritime transit zones leading to the U.S. border.
However these relationships would cease to exist without the ability to communicate. Partnering to enhance stability and security goes beyond counter narcotics operations, and the Coast Guard works through language barriers to effectively communicate across borders and sometimes oceans.
For one Coast Guardsman, building a partnership between two nations became a reality.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Juan Reyes translated for Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp during his visit to the Colombian navy’s ARC Gloria while it was moored in Norfolk, Va.
Reyes, who was born in Colombia and joined the service in 2008, is an official translator for the Coast Guard and has been translating the majority of his life. Reyes uses his bilingual ability not only during partnership meetings, but also puts it to use operationally during law enforcement patrols in the South American region.
“I believe being bilingual makes me an important asset to the Coast Guard because I’ve had the opportunity to translate for both senior leadership and field units,” said Reyes. “It helps the Coast Guard accomplish its mission safely because understanding what international maritime agencies are saying can be vital to the crew’s safety.”
Along with safety, the Coast Guard is more adaptable during patrols with partner agencies in South and Central America. These partnerships are critical in stopping illegal drugs from making their way from the source countries of South America into the nations of Central America and Mexico bringing corruption, extreme violence and other harm as they move north.
Broad-based international collaboration against transnational organized crime is pivotal to not only keeping drugs off U.S. streets but also maintaining stability in regional neighborhoods in which we share close ties. And, being able to speak the same language is the first step in establishing ties.
Reyes is just one of many Coast Guard translators who impact the service using their bilingual skill set. In fact, 80 percent of the need for translators in the service is for the Spanish language while the service also uses Haitian-Creole, Russian, Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
As the nation continues to build international relationships there will always be a need for translators, and the ability of a diverse, capable workforce to communicate with any maritime agency enables mission success. Interpreters like Reyes enable the Coast Guard to be locally based, nationally deployed and globally connected to any region.