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AF offers multilingual thank you

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 12, 2003) -- Airmen whose parents speak languages other than English can now order Air Force Parent Pins with accompanying cards translated into one of 100 languages.

The new Your Guardians of Freedom initiative is an extension of the Parent-Pin program called “E Pluribus Unum.” The Latin term comes from the great seal of the United States and means, "out of many, one," said the program’s director, Brig. Gen. Edward Tonini.

Airmen can sign up to have a pin like this sent to their parents. A personalized letter, in any of 100 languages, from Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper will accompany the pin and thank parents for their support.

"We try to take a lot of what we do in this program from history," Tonini said. "E pluribus unum comes from our founding fathers. It evokes both the strength that America derives from the diversity of its citizens and the strength that our Air Force derives from the diversity of its airmen."

In the first four months of the Parent-Pin program, more than 200,000 parents or parental figures received the lapel pins and personalized cards from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper and Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche.

Tonini said the idea for E Pluribus Unum came shortly after the program kicked off in early May.

"It started very early on in the program with an e-mail from a lieutenant colonel in Arizona," Tonini said. "He thought the program was magnificent but said his father spoke only Spanish, and it would be so much more meaningful to his father to receive the card in Spanish. Over the next few weeks, we got a hundred of those kinds of letters.”

Even before launching E Pluribus Unum, members of the Your Guardians of Freedom office received more than 1,000 requests for cards in 40 different languages, according to Tonini. About 70 percent of those requests were for Spanish.

Office officials teamed with people from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., and other commercial agencies to translate the original card into 100 different languages, Tonini said.

The purpose for offering the letter in so many languages is community outreach, according to Tonini.

“The Air Force Parent-Pin program is designed to acknowledge the parents and parental figures whose support continues to be critical to America’s airmen,” Tonini said. “When your parents wear these pins, their friends will ask about it. Your parents will tell them about you and your service, and how proud they are of you. This is a real ‘support mutliplier,’ and that support is just as important if your parents or parental figures don’t speak English.

"There is a lot to be gained for the Air Force in terms of communicating with the huge number of people in the United States whose primary language is other than English," Tonini said. "If we can make an impression in a non-English speaking family by translating the letter, then we believe that is a positive thing. This is a true diversity outreach program."

Some of the languages required as many as a dozen different versions to account for the different types of family situations that can be encountered and the ways the different languages handle things like gender, according to Tonini. The linguistic challenges of translating so many letters did not change the meaning of the message, however.

"There are some slight changes, where languages treat things differently," Tonini said. "You have to do that in many of the languages, but it is the same letter."

“As part of E Pluribus Unum, we’ve designed an interactive section of our Web site where you can see the phrase ‘Thank Your Parents’ morph from English into more than 100 languages,” said Capt. David L. Englin, the office’s deputy director. “The site also provides a summary of each language -- how many people speak it, where it’s spoken, some of the history of the language, that sort of thing. We hope it becomes an entertaining resource for airmen, students, teachers and anyone interested in foreign languages and cultures.”

E Pluribus Unum is the third major effort for the office. Besides the Parent-Pin program, the ongoing Employer-Pin program kicked off Nov. 8. More than 87,000 pins and personalized letters from Roche and Jumper have been sent to civilian employers of Guard and Reserve airmen.

The lapel pins are contemporary adaptations of the World War II “E” flags that were used to recognize companies for efficient-war production. The modern-day programs are designed to recognize and strengthen the military, community and family partnerships that are critical to the Air Force’s ability to wage the global war on terrorism. The pins are about three-fourths inch square and feature a silver letter “E” or "P" cradled within the Air Force symbol.

Those who would like their parents to receive the Parent Pin and letter, in any of 100 languages, can sign up at the Your Guardians of Freedom Web site. Registration will require airmen to enter the names and addresses of up to two parents or parental figures, Tonini said. The program is voluntary and comes at no cost to those participating.