NEWS | Feb. 3, 2018

Bridging the Language Gap during Exercise Cutlass Express 2018

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alyssa Weeks

U.S. Army Specialist Carson Roberts is a linguist. Part of his job includes communicating with Djibouti natives, visiting members of the Somali and Mozambique militaries, and translating Arabic for the U.S. military during exercise Cutlass Express 2018, an annual exercise which is designed to assess and improve combined maritime law enforcement capacity and promote national and regional security in East Africa, inform planning and operations.

Roberts’ journey to linguistics began with a mission trip to Albania.

“I learned Albanian when I lived there,” said Roberts.  “I went there as a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years. I learned the language for three months before I went, and then I lived there for a year and nine months.  I transferred back and forth between Albania and Kosovo just talking with people.”

When he returned, Roberts wanted to work for the U.S. government as an interpreter. Given the option of learning Russian or Arabic in the Army National Guard, he chose Arabic and spent more than a year learning the language.

“I wanted to learn Arabic because I wanted to increase my job opportunities,” said Roberts. “I think it benefits a lot to have a linguist who knows and understands the cultures well to [help] avoid any cultural hiccups when the military goes into other countries.”

While supporting exercise Cutlass Express in Djibouti, Somali and Mozambique military members will ask him for help translating or just stop him for a conversation in their native tongue.

“Most of them speak Arabic so they enjoy speaking with an American in Arabic,” said Roberts. “It impresses them that someone else has learned a language to communicate with them. It makes them a lot more open to communication with us.”

Roberts and other translators help bridge the language gap between the 16 nations participating in Cutlass Express and help improve their perceptions of the U.S.

“What I’m trying to do here is give them a positive feel towards Americans,” said Roberts. “I want them to have had a good experience with an American so its not like we’re against them even if we disagree sometimes. We’re just normal people too.”

For more information about Cutlass Express 2018, visit