Prineville police chief studying Persian language

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 03. 2007 5:00AM PST

Tens of millions of people worldwide speak Persian, the main language spoken in Iran and Afghanistan.

Now, Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush is hoping to become part of that group. For about a year, Bush has been studying Persian through an online program.

Although the skill might not play a large part in his police work, he said, it could help in his other role as a lieutenant colonel in the Oregon Army National Guard.

“I think it’s the responsibility of anybody in the military in a leadership position to be cognizant of what’s going on in the world,” Bush said. “I’ve always had an interest in Iran and I just felt … that in the future (that language) may be the one that would benefit me the most.”

Bush said he does not know of any current plans for his squadron, which is headquartered in Bend, to be sent to the Middle East.

But he added that “part of our mission involves the potential to be federalized for active military service overseas.” He added that many of the soldiers in his unit have been deployed to the Middle East. Many Central Oregon guardsmen were deployed to Iraq for a year as part of a unit formerly known as G Troop, 82nd Cavalry.

With the United States’ nearly four-year-old involvement in Iraq, recent news reports and studies have pointed to the need for more Arabic speakers in the American military and diplomatic corps. But Persian, which is also known as Farsi, is spoken by more than 70 million people in the nearby countries of Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, according to the CIA World Factbook.

“I think there’s a high demand for people who can speak the language of the country that they’re in,” Bush said. “Just the realities of the deployments, the lessons that we’ve learned over there so far, any language skill you can bring to the table is going to be beneficial.”

Bush said he has not been sent to the Middle East before, but he has served in Europe. He has been in the National Guard for more than 22 years.

He studies the language in his free time during the one weekend a month he spends on military duty.

“I’m just learning the alphabet and some of the very basic parts of the language,” Bush said. “I’m not fluent or anything like that, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Persian is considered more difficult for English speakers to learn than Romantic languages like French, Italian and Spanish, but easier than Arabic or Mandarin Chinese, according to the National Virtual Translation Center, an office of the federal government. The language uses a modified version of the Arabic alphabet that has 32 letters and looks very different from English.

Bush said he does not expect the ability to speak Persian to come in handy as a police officer in Prineville. He added that he also speaks German and has only needed to use that language twice in his years of work as a Prineville police officer.

“I’ve never run into (a speaker of Persian) in Prineville in the 17 years I’ve been here,” he said. “I’m not taking it to enhance my professional development as a police officer necessarily, although you never know. You never know what you could run into.”

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