Career Profile: U.S. Marines Cryptologic Linguist

Image shows a flag, a standardized test, an arm writing on a piece of paper, and a military base. Text reads: "How to become a U.S. marines cryptologic linguist: must be a U.S. citizen, candidates must take the defense language aptitude battery and score at least 110 for the language they hope to specialize in. Must score at least 105 on the armed services vocational aptitude battery. Attend education training at the marine corps detachment at Goodfellow Air Force Base"

Image by Melissa Ling © The Balance 2019

Every military branch has its fingers in the signals intelligence (SIGINT) pie for the sake of protecting troops and winning battles, and the U.S. Marine Corps is no exception.

The Corps seeks out applicants with skills or aptitude in key foreign languages to join the cryptologic linguist military occupational specialty (MOS).

Duties and Responsibilities

The Marine Corps MOS Manual describes cryptologic linguists as Marines who "monitor, transcribe, and translate intercepted target communications," then analyze those communications for use by the Corps.

Cryptologic Linguists intercept any kind of electronic information the enemy may be sending through electromagnetic waves, such as radio and cell phone transmissions. ​

This intelligence-centered job contrasts with the mission of Army interpreters, who generally spend more time on the ground facilitating two-way communications between the troops and the local population.

The specialization is divided into four MOS categories covering different regions:

  • MOS 2671, Middle East Cryptologic Linguist includes those proficient in Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Somali
  • MOS 2673, Asia-Pacific Cryptologic Linguist covers those fluent in Cambodian, Cantonese or Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean
  • MOS 2674, European Cryptologic Linguist includes Spanish, French, German, and Haitian-Creole
  • MOS 2676, Central Asian Cryptologic Linguist demands proficiency in Afghan or Farsi, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, and other languages

Military Requirements

The Marine Corps accepts only U.S. citizens as potential cryptologic linguists. In addition, a background check determines whether a candidate is eligible for secret or top secret security clearance.

Candidates must begin, as always, by taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). A general technical score of at least 105 is necessary to qualify for training as a cryptologic linguist.

Not surprisingly, foreign language skills are necessary. Candidates must take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) and score at least 110 for the language they hope to specialize in. Fluency is not required, but candidates must show the potential to become fluent with further training. Alternately, a recruit might skip the DLAB by taking the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) and proving themselves fluent in listening and reading.


Although surviving the legendary drill instructors at Marine Corps recruit training is considered by many to be the toughest part of becoming a Marine, don't underestimate the very different but formidable challenge of cryptologic linguist training.

According to Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 2-22, Signals Intelligence (PDF file), the cryptologic linguist has "the longest initial training track of any ground MOS." Cerebral stamina is required. It may take up to nine months at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, to become fluent enough to progress to the next phase of training.

For that phase, trainees are attached to the Marine Corps Detachment at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. Training there is not language specific. It focuses on "common cryptologic critical tasks performed at the national, operational and tactical levels."