Monday, February 26, 2007

I Wonder Why CNN Hasn't Broadcast This Story?

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Iraqi translator has American dreams
Monday, 26 February 2007
Story and photo by Megan McCloskey
Stars and Stripes

CAMP TAQADDUM — He’s got the strut, the confident Devil Dog swagger. He peppers his speech with “awesome” (and more than occasionally drops the F-bomb). He’s definitely gung-ho. After three years of working with the U.S.-led coalition, “Sam,” an Iraqi translator for the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, has adopted the mannerisms of a typical young Marine. Now, he wants to be one.

The 25-year-old is hoping to immigrate to the United States, enlist in the Marine Corps, become an American citizen, and then join the officer ranks. “I love to be a military guy,” he said.

A recent policy that affords a small number of Iraqi and Afghan translators special resident status might just give him the chance. The dream, Sam said, took hold when he was a child.

He said he became fascinated with the U.S. military when it trained the Jordanian army in the 1980s. He searched out newspapers from Jordan and Saudi Arabia to read about American servicemembers, and he fantasized about being one of them. “But it was just a dream. I never thought it would happen one day,” Sam said. “Under Saddam, just thinking about that could get you killed.”

Despite being drawn to military life, Sam didn’t want to join Saddam’s army. But the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq presented a different opportunity. “I started thinking my dream is getting closer,” Sam said. With a civil engineering degree, he began working as a translator for the U.S. military. For safety reasons, Sam’s real name isn’t used by the unit, and his photo was not taken for this article.

A unit he worked with previously called him “Al Pacino,” but when he got with the 9th ESB, he chose “Sam.” “Like Uncle Sam,” he said, grinning. He hit up the 9th ESB’s commander to get the immigration paperwork started for him as soon as the unit came to CampTaqaddum in August.

“I told him ‘I’ve got to get to know you first,’” Lt. Col. Mark Menotti said, laughing. Sam seems in awe of the U.S. military, the Marines especially. “I love them. How they’re brave to do whatever the mission is, to always keep fighting,” he said. “I’ve seen many Marines get killed and injured for people that are not his people. Guys 18, 19 years old. They protect me.”

In turn, Sam is their cheerleader with the local community. “Some people have the wrong idea about Marines,” he said. “I tell them, ‘The engineers are here to help you.’ Some Iraqis don’t understand that right now, but I guarantee they’ll understand some day.” Menotti, who calls Sam trustworthy and insightful, recommended him for the special immigration status. The package was approved by Menotti’s boss and now rests with a general.

“Sam is a bright guy with an even temperament, someone who mitigates problems with the locals,” Menotti said. Cpl. Angel Figueroa, 9th ESB’s linguist manager, describes Sam as “more Americanized than the other translators.” “He uses the F-word excessively,” Figueroa jokes. “I was like, ‘You’ve definitely been with the military too long.’”

Sam insists that before hanging around the military he rarely cursed, a new habit that gets him chided by a fellow translator. He laughs at how, when he started, he thought he had a good grasp on English, but was constantly saying “What?” to the military slang. “They can’t just call a room a ‘room,’” he says. “It’s a ‘hooch.’”

“I want to be an American citizen, be a Marine, have an American wife,” he said with his trademark enthusiasm. “Even my car will be American.” Asked how he pictures the United States, Sam responded without hesitation. “Almost heaven,” he said. “My loyalty to America [doesn’t start] when I get the Marine job. I have it already.”


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