Lieutenant speaks in foreign tongue for community

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Jason Bishop
  • Public Affairs
(Editor's note: Mrs. Jones' name has been changed to preserve her privacy.)
The ability of a Team Vance lieutenant to speak and read a second language turned out to be a life-changing gift to a member of the Waynoka community.
As it turns out, 2nd Lt Nathan Rhoads' proficiency in the Russian language helped one woman learn a lot more about her family and herself.
Lieutenant Rhoads, working in the contracting office on casual status, has been interested in other languages since he was quite young.
"When I was 13, I bought a book on how to speak Russian," Lieutenant Rhoads said. "I got some of the basics down. I knew some of the case endings, a little bit of verbs, some basic grammar, but I was never at any school where Russian was a possibility. So when I got to college, I was excited to take it."
While completing a double major in political science and Russian at the University of Kansas on a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, Lieutenant Rhoads planned to use his education as an intelligence officer. However, after getting a taste of flying, those plans quickly changed.
"I got interested in flying through a program with the Civil Air Patrol where ROTC (cadets) get free flying experience," he said. "So that changed my mind."
That brought him here for undergraduate pilot training, but those plans also changed one week into the program.
"It turns out I wasn't medically qualified for flying," he said.
So Lieutenant Rhoads was in casual status waiting for his next assignment, when he answered a request from Lori Stroud, an Enid resident, for someone who can read or speak Russian. Ms. Stroud was trying to help out a family friend, Mrs. Jones, who was trying to get reconnected with her family from Ukraine.
Mrs. Jones had lived in Ukraine with her family until they got separated during the Nazi occupation of World War II. After the war, she moved to the United States, leaving her family who remained in Ukraine.
Over the next 60 or so years, Mrs. Jones forgot the Russian language that is spoken in her family's part of Ukraine. Over time, she forgot more than that.
"We really just developed a relationship here in the last month," Ms. Stroud said of her relationship with Mrs. Jones. During that time, Ms. Stroud learned more about how Mrs. Jones came to the United States and her situation with her family.
"(Mrs. Jones) had received letters and things from family members but wasn't able to understand what the letters said," Ms. Stroud said. "Although she didn't ask me specifically, (Mrs. Jones) was expressing that desire (to get in contact with other family members)."
Ms. Stroud began looking in a number of different places around Enid for someone who speaks Russian.
"I called the college and didn't get an answer," Ms. Stroud said. "I called the Literacy Council, and they didn't have any help. I called the library, and they didn't have any help. I called the high school, and they didn't have any help. Then somebody suggested the base."
This resulted in a base-wide e-mail from the public affairs office looking for someone who understands Russian.
Lieutenant Rhoads was quickly put in contact with Ms. Stroud, who handed him an envelope containing letters, post cards, photos and some family history. Through Lieutenant Rhoads' translation and interpretation, Mrs. Jones was able to find out much about her family and herself.
Lieutenant Rhoads was able to get Mrs. Jones information about her family including creating a map to point where her family lives, where she was born, and other important locations of her and her family's past.
But she would learn more than just family history. She found out some personal information that was also lost over time, such as her birthday.
"She had been celebrating, probably for decades, her birthday as Aug. 26 and not even really too sure about the year," Lieutenant Rhoads said. Through the translations, Mrs. Jones found out her actual birthday is January 1923.
Ms. Stroud was quite thankful.
"It's not just anybody who would sit down on their own personal time and take hours to translate three or four pages of family history," Ms. Stroud said. "It was really neat for him to do that. It's really been a blessing."
Lieutenant Rhoads is leaving Vance Air Force Base today for Cannon AFB, N.M., where he will start a career as an Air Force aircraft maintainer.