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Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may soon be using iPods for more than entertainment while waiting for sandstorm-delayed flights.

A device called the "VCommunicator Mobile," which allows a one-way translation of phrases used in common situations in the war zones, is being fielded with some units heading to Iraq. And, officials said, some 700 of the devices are already in use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The device makes use of an iPod — the wildly popular, hand-held music and video player — to translate phrases into Iraqi Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashto and Modern Standard Arabic. It gives troops a phonetic translation of the phrases, and also plays video of a person speaking the phrases, which is then broadcast over a small speaker for the listener.

The drawback, of course, is that the device does not translate any reply. Still, some troops who have been getting demonstrations of the device say it can be a useful, lightweight tool.

"It’s easy to use and it offers a lot of applications," Sgt. Edward Hunt, an intelligence analyst with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, was quoted as saying in an Army news release. "I can’t wait to actually see it in use in the field."

The device runs on a solar charger.

One of the developers, Ernie Bright, said the translations are divided into "missions" that include cordon and search, intelligence gathering, detainee processing and checkpoints, among others. Troops choose the mission, then the phrase. "The real beauty of it is that the technology has been designed so that anyone who hasn’t had any training on it, can use it," Bright said.


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