RUMFORD – Four clocks on the wall in Worldwide Language Resources Inc. give the time for Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany – and Rumford, Maine. A map plots out the world’s hot spots for military action.

In all of them, there’s a translator who may be stationed overseas but whose home base is in an old building in this town of 7,000 that’s best known for its large paper mill.

“We’re trying to bring jobs to this dying mill town, and we’re succeeding to some extent,” says Larry Costa, company president.

Costa founded Worldwide Language Resources in 1995 after spending two decades in the military, including an eight-year stint with the Army Special Forces at Fort Devens, Mass., where he served as a language training manager.

After he retired, he saw a void in the market for military translators and language immersion programs, and jumped on the opportunity.

Costa’s is one of several dozen private companies across the country tapped by the Department of Defense and other government agencies to provide much-needed translating services across the globe.

“When you see a hole or a vacuum you go to fill it,” Costa said. “If you fill it well, you’ll get more business.”

That model has worked well for him. The company currently has around 500 translators overseas, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. His employees have translated for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Sen. John McCain.

The translators typically work for the military and government agencies. Most are attached to military units.

They and others are desperately needed, especially for intelligence gathering and interrogations, said Kevin Hendzel, spokesman for the American Translators Association near Washington, D.C.

“The shortfall is very serious,” Hendzel said. “It’s an absolute matter of national security.”

Costa searches the country from Hawaii to Maine for qualified translators, ones who can pass security checks and speak Arabic, Kurdish or Afghan languages such as Pashto and Dari.

One of his employees is Californian Alaa-Eldin, the military’s public affairs liaison to Arabic media like Al-Jazeera.

Like his other translators, Alaa-Eldin won’t provide his last name. He said divulging his identity would be too dangerous because terrorists have offered $300,000 to those who kill translators helping the United States.

Part of Alaa-Eldin’s job is to help rebuild the Iraqi media, and he conducts training courses for aspiring Iraqi journalists.

“It’s a very wide variety of different tasks you can learn and things you can experience,” the Californian said.

Another translator, Hashmat, is an Afghani attached to U.S. military units serving in Afghanistan. His family fled Afghanistan 18 years ago. Now he says he wants to help rebuild his native country.

He said he’s serves as a Pashto translator because he wants to help bridge the gap between the two countries.

“It’s a good cause,” Hashmat said. “I meet great people and serve both countries of mine.”

Costa’s company, which has 25 office workers in addition to translators, was originally based in his farmhouse in Andover. Two years ago he outgrew the house and opened up shop in downtown Rumford.

Costa said his commitment to Maine, where he has owned a home since 1983, is why the company stays in a remote location that’s an hour from a major highway and several hours from an international airport.

In the process, Costa is sending people overseas who never would have dreamed of such a thing before.

His personnel manager had never been far from home in Maine. Now she’s in Iraq and Afghanistan, sleeping on an Army cot at night and filling out health insurance paperwork for Worldwide’s employees during the day.

In typical stoic Maine fashion, she said before her latest international flight that she’s not worried about her safety. She left Maine with body armor, a gas mask and 50 pounds of paperwork.

“You can’t stop fate. If something’s going to happen, you can just prepare for it,” she said.

Several translators have been wounded in the past three years, but none killed, Costa said.

During their service, the translators have a chance to make a difference beyond their official duties.

Stationed in Baghdad, Alaa-Eldin said it’s hard for he and the other translators, who don’t have to stay within the military’s “green zone” of safety, not to get involved and try to help.

They’ve used their own money to buy creature comforts for those in need – pots and pans, or in one case, a washer and dryer.

“You get very emotional when you see what they don’t have and you want to give it to them,” he said.


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