An Australian Army interpreter has played a crucial role assisting the United Nations on the Korean Peninsula.
Following a request from the United Nations Command (UNC), the Australian Defence Force deployed a small number of military personnel to the Korean Peninsula under Operation Linesmen to support the implementation of the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA).
Private Vince Damon, from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, deployed as the mission’s interpreter.
Private Damon’s linguistic skills were integral to mission success, and he relished the opportunity to work closely with the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army and UNC’s Military Armistice Commission.
“It is a challenge to ensure that I find the most accurate means of bridging communication gaps between different people as the intermediary, whilst simultaneously seeking to build rapport and trust,” Private Damon said.
“It has been thoroughly rewarding and humbling.”
The small ADF detachment provided oversight of approvals for access into the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea. Private Damon translated access approval documentation from the ROK Army.
“Not only do I need to translate the words across two different alphabets, but it is just as important to convey the appropriate emphasis or inference to what is being communicated by both parties.”
Having previously completed compulsory military service as a Republic of Korea (ROK) citizen, Private Damon’s understanding of the ROK Army culture was immensely helpful to the Operation Linesmen team.
“My time in the ROK military has given me a good knowledge base to help our team understand nuanced differences in standard operating procedures, build rapport with the ROK Army and also to clarify terminology gaps that can arise during our mission tasks.
“It really is a diverse job and each day brings new experiences and challenges,” he said.
Private Damon said the chance to work in his country of birth was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, particularly within the context of the CMA between the two Koreas.
The CMA, signed by the Republic of Korea and North Korea in September 2018, includes a series of confidence-building measures that aim to reduce military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
United Nations Command, which is responsible for maintaining the Armistice Agreement signed in 1953 at the end of the Korean War, is working with the Republic of Korea and North Korea to implement the measures.
“I’ve been able to gain an appreciation for what it means to be at the forefront of an area both rich in history and contemporary current affairs simultaneously,” Private Damon said.
“It just goes to show that no matter what your role in the ADF is, you really can end up working anywhere in the world.
“I have also enjoyed introducing our team members to some of the traditional culinary delights in Korea, including kimchi (fermented cabbage) and sannakji (raw octopus).”