AFCLC, Air Force Culture and Language Center, Air Force's Global Classroom

Language-enabled Airmen Translate Russian Memoir of Combat in Ukraine

  • Published
  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

As Russia poses a persistent threat to international peace and security according to the United States National Security Strategy, United States Air Force leadership has issued a challenge to increase adversary understanding within the force and create a more complex operating environment for strategic competitors. Air University’s Russian Research Task Force is one the educational programs designed to meet this challenge.

When an open-source document emerged on the social media account of a Russian parachutist detailing information on the Ukraine conflict that would be crucial for educating Airmen, Air University’s Office of Sponsored Programs called on five Russian language Scholars in the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program to translate the 140-page memoir.

“The ZOV manuscript, when it appeared on social media, offered a valuable, direct account of the Russian experience. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and their information arm are very good at distributing their side of the conflict, but the Russia accounts have been highly mediated by censorship, so ZOV is a fascinating glimpse into what is going on in the minds of the Russian combatants. Because it is highly colloquial, we especially value the fluency and military vocabulary knowledge of LEAP linguists,” said Dr. Margaret Sankey, Research Coordinator for Air University’s Office of Sponsored Programs.

Air Command and Staff College Professor Dr. Andrew Akin is currently leading Air University’s Russian Research Task Force and saw the ZOV manuscript as a valuable primary resource for his students’ research. The RTF is examining the Ukraine conflict as part of their course and utilizing the memoir as open source, unclassified accounts of the conditions on the ground in Ukraine.

“The Russian RTF is working on creating an edited volume on the Russian-Ukraine war, and this translation is an example of a timely primary source that has been made available to the group through the capacity of LEAP translators. Otherwise [without translations], primary source artifacts like this soldier's account would be undiscovered or unusable to anyone but excellent Russian linguists for years,” Dr. Akin explained.

Maj. Herman Reinhold served as one of the LEAP team members who translated this document and acknowledged his LEAP education and training as one of the determining factors for his success on this project.

“My regular language emersions and Language Intensive Training Event programs have allowed me to sustain and enhance my Russian language skills throughout my career,” Reinhold said. “My cultural understanding of Russia also aided in the translation since many nuances within the document could be missed by an individual who has the language knowledge but lacks a deep cultural understanding.”

Reinhold and team saw firsthand the potential impact this translation project would have for total force Airmen on enhancing adversary understanding of Russia.

“The memoir serves as a stark reminder of the contrast between military capabilities on paper and actual capabilities. This can also serve as a reminder to analysts to question conventional wisdom and not take reported numbers at face value,” Reinhold explained. “Any Airman studying Russia must understand that its military capabilities have been evolving throughout the conflict. The way the Russian army conducted operations early in the conflict differs from how it is conducting operations now.”

AFCLC’s education and training designed to enhance the technical vocabulary of LEAP Scholars enabled them to accurately translate a memoir engrained in military jargon. Since LEAP Scholars possess language, cultural, and military experience and knowledge, they were able to translate the document in a comprehensive, understandable, and impactful way for utilization by Airmen.

“This document translation shows direct connection to CSAF Gen. Brown’s Action Order C in ‘understanding our adversaries and their ways of war’ and how language, regional expertise, and culture education helps Air University go deeper in what was said in the manuscript and have insights into the nuances of what was actually meant,” AFCLC Director Howard Ward said.

The translated ‘ZOV’ manuscript is available in the Air University Library.


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