Airman helps strengthen bond between US, China

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Terri Paden
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

An Airman assigned to the 15th Operations Support Squadron here, is tapping into a unique set of skills to support the U.S. Pacific Command's priority of strengthening its foreign partnerships.

Capt. Joshua Hu, a 15th OSS executive officer, speaks Mandarin Chinese and has used his ability to translate to support three PACOM missions over the last year.

Hu said his previous job on the PACOM surgeon's staff set him up for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that followed.

When the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Senior Medical Delegation from China made their inaugural visit to the U.S., the Air Force was in need of someone who could translate English to Chinese, and Hu stepped up to the plate.

The Taiwan native then travelled with the delegation from Hawaii to the Pentagon in Washington D.C., to translate for meetings with the joint service assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and the Air Force, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy surgeons general.

"One day, I was here in Honolulu, and the next, I was at the Pentagon translating for very high-level officials," he said. "Honestly, it was nerve wracking, but I got enjoyment out of helping build and strengthen the relationship between U.S. and China."

Following his work for the PLA delegation visit, Hu was then offered another opportunity to put his translation skills to work during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014 when PLA sent their navy hospital ship, the ARK PEACE, to participate in the exercise for the first time in history.

During the exercise, Hu was responsible for negotiating the exercise schedule, coordinating ship distinguished visitor tours and translating. His work eventually landed him on the PLA ship where he spent 10 days controlling helicopter operations and liaising with RIMPAC command and control nodes. Hu is credited with helping land the first U.S. helicopter on the ship.

Hu's work efforts during RIMPAC were described as "critical to the engagement effort," by U.S. Navy Capt. Lynn Wheeler, the executive officer onboard the USNS Mercy (T-AH-19).

"It is impossible to describe how valuable he has been," she said. "All of the members of the team have been critical to this effort, but his experience in this role has paid huge dividends."

After his success with RIMPAC, Hu said he was pleasantly surprised to learn he'd been selected to help out with another high-level mission, this time serving as the interpreter for PACOM's reciprocal senior medical delegation visit to China.

"The entire experience has been cool ... being a part of history," he said.

Though Hu, who lived in Taiwan until he immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10, has been speaking Mandarin all his life, he said he still studies to prepare for interpreter jobs, because they are a lot of responsibility.

"I am fluent in the language, but I don't translate full time, so I had to study on my own to make sure I did a good job," he said. "Normal conversation is different than official function dialogue, and you have to make sure you translate the right words, so you don't commit any diplomatic or protocol errors."

Hu said being a good interpreter also means understanding the culture and the context of words, so the right messages are not lost in translation.

"You don't want to fail at this," he said. "You want to make sure you do the best you can, so you can enhance the relationship between the U.S. and China."

Though Hu has returned to his primary job as the 15th OSS executive officer, he said he looks forward to the future and what new opportunities may bring.

"I'm very appreciative to my leadership and PACOM for giving me these opportunities," he said. "I wouldn't have had these opportunities or been able to go on these trips if not for the support of my leadership in both commands."

In the meantime, Hu plans to keep his translating skills sharp by hosting workshops to teach interested Airmen the basics of the language.