"Being a woman, it was not easy to adjust.”
US Indian soldier Balreet Kaur Khaira is deemed an asset in the army, as her expertise in Hindi and Urdu has allowed her to be a valuable interpreter.
Born in Moga in Punjab, and raised in Chandigarh, the 27-year-old’s bilingual talent came more than handy during her time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I know Hindi and Urdu, and that helped me a lot in Afghanistan. I was able to connect with the locals and they too were happy to communicate,” Khaira told HT.
Alongside her interpretation techniques, Khaira also does her usual jobs as a staffer for the US Army. When there is a lack or difficulty of communication with her team, or members of the Indian Army, Khaira is there to help.
Khaira and her sister Jasleen, who is also a member of the force, have gained the nickname ‘cultural diplomats’, due to their mixed American Indian identity.
Khaira’s skills have been put to the test at the Indo-US military exercise ‘Yudh Abhyas’, Uttarakhand. More than 400 US Army personnel and the Congo Brigade of the Indian Army were trying to get to know each other in order to familiarise themselves with each other’s organisational structure, weapons, equipment and tactical drills, for the exercise that began this week.
Khaira recalls when she first joined the army when she was 16. In an interview with the Hindustani Times, she says:
“Then there were only few Indians working in the US force (when I joined in 2004). Being a woman, it was not easy to adjust.”
She first began as a soldier, before moving to the infantry division and being promoted to the rank of staffer. Her younger sister soon followed in her footsteps where they both participate in joint military exercises.
After moving to the US a week before 9/11 when she was 14 years old, she recalls how Indians had faced many issues and difficulties. Khaira now claims she is happy that perceptions towards Indians have changed, at least among her colleagues.