Story by SN Sophie Pinkham on 06/12/2019"Do you know any Russian?" asked then Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate Kenneth Crowther with a straight face. "Do you know any Arabic? Hebrew? What about Chinese?"
Seaman Amaury Prez, a member of deck department, was questioned after being called into Crowther's office while wrapping up the first day of sea trials aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Prez promptly formed a reply in each language that he was asked.
" , , ," said Prez in Russian.
" . ? ," he replied in Arabic.
"?" Prez laughed after his response in Hebrew.
"? ," he finished in Chinese.
"You got the rate," said Crowther.
Prez took a seat on the couch and started crying.
"I couldn't believe it," said Prez. "I was so happy and so excited. Two years in the Navy, and I finally got it."
His disbelief was warranted. Prez had just been informed that he was one step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a cryptologic technician (interpretive) (CTI).
CTIs are experts in linguistics and deciphering information in other languages. They provide cultural and regional guidance in support of Navy, Joint Force, national and multinational needs by collecting and analyzing foreign language communications of interest and transcribing, translating and interpreting foreign language materials.
Prez first discovered his passion for languages when he started to learn French at 13 because of a book his mother gave to him.
"Learning languages for me was like a connection between me and wherever I wanted to go," said Prez.
He studied Italian in college and had the opportunity to go to Italy and France in 2016.
"When you go to Italy and order your favorite pasta or gelato in Italian, it feels like you have a superpower," said Prez.
In the spring of 2016, Prez was close to finishing his bachelor's degree, but he believed it was the right time to join the Navy, following his family's military tradition including his brother, cousin and uncle's service.
"I felt like I needed some structure and a pause in my life to get things in order before I could take a big step, which is still my goal, to go to law school," he said.
In December 2016, Prez was sent to Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, Illinois to become a United States Sailor. After graduating from RTC, he reported to submarine school, but eventually he found himself on the deckplates of Ike undergoing a Planned Incremental Availability in Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.
"It was frustrating because it's not quite the Navy that I was expecting," expressed Prez. "I was thinking about going to Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia and then I ended up in Portsmouth, which is an industrial environment."
Upon arriving, he spent four months in deck department before being temporarily assigned to security department, something he said he enjoyed.
"It was excellent training," said Prez. "Above all I gained awareness of the threats we face every day and we don't even realize it, even being in the shipyard."
During his year with security, he manned routine watches including roving the ship and checking bags. He also responded to medical emergencies setting perimeter and making sure everything is ready for the proper team to arrive.
Prez's watch commander, Master-At-Arms 2nd Class Robert Hamlett spoke about Prez's dedication to learning the job and going above and beyond what was expected.
"As soon as he got to security, he hit the ground running," said Hamlett. "He was more motivated than almost everyone we get. Whenever he wasn't on watch he was always studying things that no one else really would. You'd catch him studying the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and a couple times I caught him studying the manual for court martial. He was always doing extra, and I feel like by nature he's a hard-working individual."
As some point Prez expressed to Hamlett that he was interested in an intel rate, and Hamlett mentioned that he could retake the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB), a test that assess an individual's potential for learning a foreign language.
"I didn't hesitate," said Prez. "I went to Amazon and got a book to study, the one I didn't want to get the first time. I started reviewing the process, and I studied the portion I thought I needed the most help with."
Navy Counselor 1st Class Cody Wood, a career counselor onboard Ike, helped Prez submit his package to become a CTI.
"His case was a bit unique," said Wood. "It's a package-driven rate and it has a whole different requirement because it's complex. He had to submit a package, do the DLAB and get letters of recommendation. All of that was sent to the enlisted community manager for CTs who then took and reviewed and worked with the [Professional Apprenticeship Career Tracks] program to say Hey, we'd like to give this guy a shot'."
Prez gave credit to several people helping him with the package he assembled between August and November of last year.
"You don't put in a package for CTI alone," he said. "You don't wake up and go through it with your own strength. My watch commanders MA2 Hamlett and MA1 Roberts were guiding me on how to put the package together, and NC1 Wood and NC1 Robert Brooks helped me make sure I was putting the right information in the package the right way."
Prez mentioned a few difficult parts of the package like the SF-86, a questionnaire for a security clearance.
"It's the best filter for Sailors to see if they actually want the job," he joked. "It's tedious, and it makes you stop wanting to do it."
He also had his family to thank for his tenacious attitude towards putting together the package.
"My mom said You have a temptation. You can gratify yourself immediately, and then what?" recounted Prez. "You answer that question or you can wait and be patient and have what you want, which is what matters."
Although some wanted him to choose a rate so he could pick up rank, Prez knew that picking a rate just so he could get paid more wasn't what he wanted.
"I knew that picking a rate to put on third class was not going to make me happy," he said. "It wasn't going to fulfill this passion for service in the armed forces that I was looking for."
Wood explained that the fact he already completed the DLAB with a high score prior to putting in his package together helped him get selected along with other factors.
"He had more of his package complete, and he had done a lot of the research," said Wood. "He knew what he was looking for and on his request he asked for a specific language that was under-manned and that made him more of a candidate.
Like others, Wood noticed how determined Prez was.
"He kept pushing his package through despite a few saying he wasn't going to get picked up for it," said Wood. "Once it got submitted, he would come in every week asking if we'd heard anything yet. Sometimes things line up, other times they don't. Had he been rated in another rate, there was a good chance he might not have been selected."
Prez waited four months for an answer about his CTI package.
"I went on leave for the holidays, and I was on the other side of the ocean thinking about my package," he said. "Are they going to contact me? Are they going to say yes? Are they going to say no? What am I going to do if they say no?"
Before he knew it, Prez was back in deck department relearning line handling, mooring lines and working with the anchor chain on the rigger team.
"When I first made it to deck department I was frustrated with myself and with the Navy," said Prez. "I took the year in security looking at the Navy from a different perspective and now I'm in deck working with important parts of the ship. It's a great opportunity to learn seamanship, and it reminds me why I joined the Navy. I've had the opportunity to stand under-instruction watches on the bridge as helm, lee helm and aft steering. It's an experience that every Sailor should have in their careers."
When Prez received the news during sea trials that he picked up CTI, he was offered four options for languages: Mandarin, Arabic, Russian and Hebrew.
"I already made up my mind a while ago for Mandarin," said Prez. "It's challenging, and it's so different than ours. Because of geopolitical reasons, China has become important."
Prez's passion for language is evident, and his face lights up as he speaks about it.
"It's impossible to learn a language without learning the culture and history," he said. "It's my personal goal to leave everything I know about communication behind and relearn it. I think it's going to be an exciting journey."
Starting in September, Prez will attend the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., for a year and a half to learn his target language.
"They say it's the best language school in the world," he said. "It's a long time and it's a demanding, challenging language. Sometimes I still can't believe it. I don't know if excited is the best way to put it. More than just to become a CTI, but I want to go to school and have that experience."
Wood hopes to hear back from Prez when he completes CTI school to get feedback. "I hope he lets us know how his journey went," said Wood. "Unfortunately, one of the things in the career counselor's office is we help people get somewhere and don't know how it went."
Perez offered up his own advice for undesignated Sailors.
"You've got to picture yourself doing something meaningful where you think you can genuinely bring something to the table," said Perez. "Something's that's going take you to the next level. Don't take a job just to get out of the department that you're in right now. If you do, it's going to be an average Navy experience, which is not independent from an average life. If you don't think the rate you're going to be is something you're going to be proud of and enjoy doing, it's worthless."