News: Soldier bridges language gap in Thailand
Story by Staff Sgt. Matthew Winstead
CAMP ERAWAN, Thailand - Amid the bustle of Thai and U.S. leadership speaking through interpreters, working to bridge the language gap, there is one soldier who stands out from all the rest.
Twenty-five-year-old Pfc. Ativut Son, a utilities equipment repairer from the 71st Chemical Company, 8th Military Police Brigade, based at Schofield Barracks Hawaii, has been attached to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment to work as an interpreter.
Born in Bangkok, Son is fluent in both Thai and English and has been assisting communication efforts between the leadership of the Thai and U.S. armies during Cobra Gold 2011.
Son learned basics of the English language in a Thai grade school, but he didn't become fluent until he and his family made a permanent move to San Diego when he was 15.
"This is my first time to do anything like this for the Army," Son said. "I've only been in the Army for about 15 months, so all of this is kind of new to me. But it's nice to visit Thailand again and I'm getting a lot of experiences here ... I don't think I would have gotten if I wasn't selected to do this."
Son's chain of command picked him to assist the U.S. forces training with the Royal Thai army's 3-31st Infantry Regiment, King's Guard. The 3-509th has since put him to work helping to interpret for both U.S. and Thai instructors during Cobra Gold 2011.
"What makes my job really easy is the fact that the Thai and American army are already so similar in what they do, so explaining things isn't all that hard," Son said. "[They both] are pretty much already on the same page, even with the language differences. I just fill in the details,"
Keeping the two forces of the Thai and U.S. working closely together is at the very heart of Exercise Cobra Gold 2011. Son has been working to keep things working toward that goal, and it hasn't been without its rewards outside of the line of duty either.
"I actually ran into one of my cousins when I flew into the Bangkok airport," said Son with a smile. "Apparently he works there now, and I just so happen to bump into him during his night shift. It was really good to see a member of my family so quickly after landing."
In addition to family, some new friends have made this assignment worth the effort as well.
"I've made some really good friends with the locals around Camp [Erawan] since I've been here. I'd come back just to see them again," Son said.
Son's leaders say he's been an important communications link during Cobra Gold 2011.
"Son has done an outstanding job in getting the point across for both sides," said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Connie Rounds, battalion command sergeant major for the 3-509th. "He's done his job well so far."
Not one to have his ego overinflated by the importance of his work, Son expects to simply go back to his regularly assigned duties when he returns to his home base in Hawaii.
"I think I've gotten a little spoiled back here, I have to go back to just being a Pfc. again when I go back," Son said with a grin.