A cacophony of camouflage uniforms and civilian clothing framed by flashy pop culture placards greeted competitors to the 2024 Polyglot Games. Proclaiming “Enemies Strongly Cautioned,” and “Some material may be inappropriate for linguists under 2/2,” the tall movie-style banners set a very specific tone. This was an event by, and for, the best linguists supporting the national intelligence enterprise.
The Utah Army National Guard’s 300th Military Intelligence Brigade (Linguist) hosted the sixth annual Polyglot Games in Salt Lake City at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
What is a polyglot you may ask? A person who knows and can use several languages. Those in attendance certainly fit that bill.
One other prominently displayed banner proclaimed, “Yeah, he listens and reads at a 3/3 just like me and you, but his vocabilistics is limited to “不” and “知” and “道.” Exclusively in that order.” An insider joke, readable only to those fluent in Chinese Mandarin, the characters literally translate to, “I don’t know.”
What was clear though was that many did and do know. As true polyglots, they represented some of the best linguists in the total force.
Arabic, Chinese Mandarin, French, Korean, Russian, Persian-Farsi, and Spanish linguists formed seven-person teams. Individuals also competed.
This year, the Military Intelligence Readiness Command (MIRC) dispatched U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Natalya Kimble and Sgt. 1st Class Zaid Alqabbani to spearhead the effort. The duo head up the MIRC command language program at Fort Belvoir, Va. They spent months preparing for and enrolling soldiers in the competition.
“The MIRC’s leadership guidance and the teamwork between the command language program staff, units and linguists, was the fuel that powered our reserve linguists to attain uncommon results,” said Alqabbani. “This is by far my greatest accomplishment while serving as program manager.”
MIRC soldiers studied on their own prior to arriving and integrating as a team. Each individual used study material provided by the competition organizers.
Teams received a road to war brief and then evaluators graded voice intercept, site exploitation, document exploitation (DOMEX), open-source collection, operational analysis, and a commander’s brief.
Each team member had to translate material live as part of the voice intercept event. Hunched over laptops, listening to foreign language speech over headphones, soldiers rapidly translated, prioritized and transcribed complex spoken language.
The site exploitation event took place in the cavernous halls of the convention center. There, teammates worked to search a simulated room and catalogue evidence in a high-stress and rapidly changing environment.
At the end of it all, the Military Intelligence Readiness Command placed first overall in the team competition.
“Our team crushed it today, despite meeting their teammates for the very first time the day prior,” said Kimble. “We will have to maintain a winning streak next year!”
The competition was stiff. U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, interagency partners, and others participated. They comprised approximately 210 competitors and about 80 organizations – the most ever participating in a Polyglot Games event.
The MIRC’s winning team was rounded out by a soldier assigned to U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) – Army Reserve.
In the individual competition, the MIRC’s Russian language linguists placed first and second. They were U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Sergiy Yurkov, CENTCOM Army Reserve Element and 1st Lt. Igor Demidoff, Interrogation Group.
“It was clear that the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade had put a lot of work into the competition, organization and scenario,” said Yurkov – also a member of the winning team. “I loved that they sprinkled humor throughout all of the materials.”
373rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 259th Expeditionary-Military Intelligence Brigade’s Sgt. 1st Class Dong Lim placed second in individual competition in Korean.
Yurkov – “I hope to be back next year. I’m really looking forward to competing against the best linguists again.”
If you, or someone you know, is interested in joining the MIRC team, reach out to the command language program at firstname.lastname@example.org.