The Interpreter

An anthropologist is always searching for something. And as a Navy linguist, or Cryptologic Technician – Interpretive, Myah Riggans is one of them. But she didn’t dig in her own backyard to find purpose—she found hers thousands of miles away on a tiny island in the Arabian Gulf. In this latest episode of Faces of the Fleet, we tell the story of  CTI1 Riggans who left behind a quiet life in Wyoming to search for something bigger.

Childhood

Myah Riggans’ life before the Navy was spent with her mother and grandmother in Cheyenne, Wyoming. From the beginning, Myah was thrown into a world of cultural diversity; her father was Mexican and her step-father was a Native American from the Lakota tribe.

Myah’s mother wanted to ensure that she understood her cultural roots, introducing her to diverse foods and music from a young age. This eventually led Myah to join a folkloric dance group and to become an active member in Cheyenne’s Latin community. She spent summers with the family of her mother’s best friend, who was African American, she participated in the Seder with her Jewish friends and she visited Amish communities; all the while immersing herself in the traditions and cultures of each. It’s fair to say Myah was destined for a life of culture and diversity. Little did she know that one day it would become her career in the United States Navy.

“My childhood really set me up to be a good leader and to always be brave and explore, jump those hurdles and go places and see things that maybe people said that I shouldn’t.”

~Myah Riggans

A Broadening Interest In Language

Myah’s passion for cultural exploration eventually led to a parallel interest in language. Around seventh grade, Myah realized her enthusiasm for both made language acquisition easy for her.

Though the military wasn’t at the forefront of her mind while in school, Myah was certainly aware of the possibility of one day joining the Armed Forces. Her grandfather had served as a member of the Underwater Demolition Team, which later became the Navy SEALs. She grew up surrounded by the camaraderie and closeness of her grandfather and his fellow veterans. The stories they told about the countries they went to and the experiences they had appealed to the culture-curious Myah.

In her high school years, Myah worked as a babysitter for a Navy Recruiter who shared stories about life as a Sailor. When he learned of her fasciation for culture and language, he introduced her to the possibility of a career as a Navy linguist, officially known as a Cryptologic Technician – Interpretive.

Not only would joining the Navy give Myah opportunities to travel the world, explore other cultures and ultimately turn her love of culture into a career, but it would also help her avoid the extravagant costs often associated with attending a four-year college. Coming from a low-income household, the expenses of college had been a serious concern for Myah.

 

“Joining the Navy really gave me the opportunity to not only get out of the small town, but to do something that I was good at, that I was really interested in, but that also benefits me and gave me an opportunity for a school that otherwise wouldn’t have been available,” Myah said.

Myah’s recruiter encouraged her to take a DLAB test, knowing her desire to pursue languages. Her near-flawless score was validating for her, proving that her love of language was also one of her strongest abilities.

Becoming A CTI

A Cryptologic Technician – Interpretive, a.k.a. CTI, is a translator and transcriber for the Navy. A CTI does everything language and culture-related for the Fleet. They provide direct support and safety measures for ships and aircraft.

“A good CTI is someone who is flexible, someone who is dedicated. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn a language, maintain it, and also be able operate in that language,” Myah remarks.

“Democracy is constantly under attack. As technology evolves, we’re always reacting to enemy threats. You need a team who can analyze encrypted electronic communications, jam enemy radar signals, decipher information in foreign languages and maintain state-of-the-art equipment used to generate top secret intel. We’re those people.”

The process to become a CTI is extensive. After 18 months of school, Sailors then select a language and enter immersive all-day training, spending an entire year with native instructors who know every facet of the language. The goal is for CTIs to understand language at a collegiate level and be able to fully appreciate science podcasts, music lyrics and even slang.

After language acquisition class is complete, Sailors then go to their first duty station. There, depending on their chosen language, Sailors go through “C” school, or secondary school, which gives them all of their operational or technical knowledge on how to use the language within the CTI rate.

After that, they are finally sent to their first station.

A New Environment

Myah quickly became accustomed to life as a CTI, traveling to places across the world that she only ever dreamed of visiting. Places like Dubai, Germany and Czech Republic introduced her into a wide variety of worlds far from Wyoming. Surrounded by a team of the most highly- skilled linguists in the world, Myah found herself acquiring knowledge faster than she ever thought possible.

While most people her age in the civilian world were finishing up college or working dead-end jobs, Myah was operating multi-million dollar equipment, cracking codes and intercepting enemy intelligence. Not bad for a twenty-something.

The Kingdom of Bahrain

Today, Myah is stationed in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Situated in the Arabian Gulf on the east coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain serves as one of the Navy’s most important bases and ports in the region. Although Myah is still acclimating to the differences in culture, she embraces every second of her time there.

Understanding the culture of the Kingdom of Bahrain has been incredibly important to Myah. She noted that any reaction or interaction is really based on the knowledge of your audience. If you only know your way of life, you limit yourself in being successful with your interactions with people. While overseas, she has also been working towards her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, further affirming her beliefs.

“Anthropology is a really important part of our society because it’s the study of human societies and culture. One can look really deeply into cultural and social anthropology and learn about how we act, and why certain interactions socially are so important to civilization or the success of a civilization,” Myah continued.

Now 30 years old, married and stationed in Bahrain where she leads 15 Surface Linguists, Myah’s life has changed dramatically since she left for Boot Camp. She oversees training and augmentation, while providing support to vessels in open waters. While much of her work is top secret, Myah has found a purpose in the Navy. Now thousands of miles away from home in one of the most volatile regions of the world, Myah has discovered meaning in her life helping to defend her country.

“I definitely think that the negligence in learning in general and then in the learning of what’s different is definitely what’s creating a gap or a divide between us. I think that it’s really important to focus on studying, especially history, and our interactions with different communities in the past and what’s worked and what’s not worked. That you don’t necessarily know how to interact with a community or a culture or a nation, if you don’t know how they view gift-giving or reciprocity, if you don’t know what they think of table manners.”

Acceptance

The Navy accepted Myah for who she is, and encouraged her to embrace her passions. The Navy picks Sailors based on their merit, skills, and abilities. They cherish each Sailor’s background. Having Sailors with different cultures, beliefs, and perspectives builds a stronger and more well-rounded Navy. Myah has thrived in this kind of environment.

“It’s important because differences are innate. I think they’re automatic. I think it’s very difficult to put human beings in the same category. No one person will ever be the same. The more you embrace and highlight the benefits of being different and having diversity, the more successful you’ll be in anything, in interactions, in a work environment, in social settings and the political era,” Myah said.

About CTIs

CTIs serve as experts in linguistics (including Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian-Farsi, Russian and Spanish) and deciphering information in other languages. Their responsibilities include collecting, analyzing and exploiting foreign language communications of interest; transcribing, translating and interpreting foreign language materials; and providing cultural and regional guidance in support of Navy, Joint Force, national and multinational needs.

Find out more about life as a CTI  at https://www.navy.com/careers/cryptologic-technician.

Their other responsibilities include collecting, analyzing and reporting on communication signals; utilizing computers, specialized computer-assisted communications equipment and video display terminals; and serving as an important part of the Information Dominance Corps in its mission to gain a deep understanding of the inner workings of adversaries and develop unmatched knowledge of the battlespace during wartime.

Within Navy Cryptology, there are distinct focus areas that have their own training paths and job descriptions. Each CT role works under the oversight of Cryptologic Warfare Officers (four-year degree required) or Cyber Warfare Engineers (four-year degree required) – and potentially both.

Cryptologic Technician Interpretive (CTI) – CTIs serve as experts in linguistics (including Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian-Farsi, Russian and Spanish) and deciphering information in other languages. Their responsibilities include collecting, analyzing and exploiting foreign language communications of interest; transcribing, translating and interpreting foreign language materials; and providing cultural and regional guidance in support of Navy, Joint Force, national and multinational needs.

Cryptologic Technician Technical (CTT) – CTTs serve as experts in airborne, shipborne and land-based radar signals. Their responsibilities include operating electronic intelligence-receiving and direction-finding systems, digital recording devices, analysis terminals, and associated computer equipment; operating systems that produce high-power jamming signals used to deceive electronic sensors and defeat radar-guided weapons systems; and providing technical and tactical guidance in support of surface, subsurface, air and special warfare operations

Cryptologic Technician Networks (CTN) – CTNs serve as experts in communication network defense and forensics. Their responsibilities include monitoring, identifying, collecting and analyzing information; providing computer network risk mitigation and network vulnerability assessments and incident response/reconstruction; providing network target access tool development; and Conducting computer network operations worldwide in support of Navy and Department of Defense missions

Cryptologic Technician Maintenance (CTM) – CTMs serve as experts in the preventive and corrective maintenance of sophisticated cryptologic equipment, networks and systems. Their responsibilities include installing, testing, troubleshooting, repairing or replacing cryptologic networks, physical security systems, electronic equipment, antennas, personal computers, auxiliary equipment, digital and optical interfaces, and data systems and configuring, monitoring and evaluating Information Operations (IO), Information Warfare (IW) systems and Information Assurance (IA) operations.

Cryptologic Technician Collection (CTR) – CTRs serve as experts in intercepting signals. Their responsibilities include analyzing and reporting on communication signals using computers, specialized computer-assisted communications equipment, video display terminals and electronic/magnetic tape recorders; exploiting signals of interest to identify, locate and report worldwide threats; and providing tactical and strategic signals intelligence, technical guidance, and information warfare support to surface, subsurface, air and special warfare units.