459th Airlift Squadron pilot exchanges aircraft for words

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brieana E. Bolfing
  • 374th AW/PA

As she stepped off the bus in Tafraoute, Morocco, the oppressive heat overwhelmed her. This was going to be tougher than she had imagined.

She walked toward the field hospital that sat in the middle of the scorching heat and it hit her this place was different from the coastal town she just left, where the breeze helped alleviate some of the intensity.

For Capt. Jennie Seibert, 459th Airlift Squadron UH-1N Huey pilot and chief of training, this heat would not stop her from what she came here to do, bridge the gap between deployed Airmen and Moroccans through communication.

Being proficient in Arabic, Seibert was tasked to support the 151st Medical Group with the Utah Air National Guard as the sole female Arabic translator for their part of Exercise African Lion 2021.

“I was working mostly in the gynecology tent but was moved around wherever they needed help as we were trying to build up the trust and relationships with the locals,” Seibert said. “It was important that we didn't put a male translator in an area like that, especially in places like Northern Africa and the Middle East. I helped the U.S. and Moroccan providers by translating between them as well as the patients.”

African Lion is one of the largest annual U.S. military exercises in the entire African continent. The exercise is a multi-domain and multinational training, which employs a full range of mission capabilities with the goal to strengthen interoperability among the participants.

Multiple nations participate with some acting as observer nations. The operation takes place in Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal, where Arabic is the main language.

Although Morocco has made recent advances in gender equality, it still leans more toward a male-dominated culture.

“There were several male interpreters, so they had a fallback if needed,” said Seibert. “There was no one else to be back-up or support for me. It became more of ‘if I don't do it, who's going to?’

“It was important in the spirit of strengthening and building relationships. We had to make sure that we're abiding by those cultural sensitivities in every way. I definitely felt some pressure from it, but could see why it was so important and necessary.”

Despite the stress, Seibert says Exercise African Lion brought more good memories that will follow her for the rest of her life. Her eyes lighting up with pride as she recalled one memorable moment.

“There was a 19-year-old girl who came in describing pain all over her body,” Seibert recalled. “I translated the entire appointment, from start to finish. She spoke perfect textbook Arabic, which is great for me because I can understand that better than the slang and dialect. I was able to help her and the doctor throughout the whole encounter.”

Because of her efforts Seibert was able to expedite the proper care for the young patient. Knowing the girl received the care she needed made all the struggles worth it.

Seibert’s journey that led to supporting the people of Morocco started in college where she majored in Russian. She understands Latin and Spanish and is currently studying Japanese. But her fascination with Arabic continues to guide her career.

“I fell in love with it when I was on a high school field trip,” Seibert said. “I went to a mosque and there was Arabic written on the top of the entrance. It was so gorgeous that it grabbed my attention and never let go.”

As a freshman in college, Seibert studied both Russian and Arabic for four years before she applied for the very competitive Language Enabled Airman Program, which develops language enabled and cross-cultural service members across the Air Force with working-level foreign language proficiency. She continues to grow with the program’s help.

“I thought I could help the Air Force out by picking a language that could be of use to them in the future,” said Seibert. “They helped me continue developing the skill with the idea that I can use it for events like Operation African Lion.”

While the operation supported more than 7,000 participants, focusing on enhancing readiness for U.S. and partner nation forces, Seibert used her words to build trust instead. Trust that could help form lasting relationships and memories.