27 May 2009

Back "home" in Baghdad - as an American Soldier

U.S. Army Spc. Forat Aldawoodi, right, originally from Iraq, translates a conversation between an Army officer and an Iraqi police commander. Photo: Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY.

What a great story.

BAGHDAD — In the fall of 2007, Forat Aldawoodi fled Iraq through a special visa program for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government. He landed in Pawtucket, R.I., where he soon became a New England Patriots fan, traveled to the Atlantic Ocean and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Today, after a year's absence, Aldawoodi is in Iraq again — this time as an American soldier.

In fact, until recently transferred to a post outside Baghdad, he was assigned to a unit patrolling his former neighborhood, Dora, in southern Baghdad.

"I know it might sound a little strange that I am back in Baghdad so soon after leaving here," Aldawoodi said in an interview at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Baghdad. "But I knew before I came (to the U.S.) that the Army was something I wanted to try."

Aldawoodi, who is an Army interpreter, is one of at least eight Iraqis who fled to the United States in the midst of the war, only to have returned home as members of the U.S. armed forces, according to Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, a Pentagon spokesman. Melnyk said the figure likely understates the actual number of Iraqis in the U.S. military because personnel records don't require recruits to list their nationality.

"Most of us had worked with the U.S. Army for a long time, so we had a good idea of what it's like to be a soldier and what life is like in the Army," said Aldawoodi, who had been a civilian interpreter for the Army before enlisting. He said two other Army recruits who went through training with him are also serving in Iraq.

Aldawoodi's dual identity has provided an interesting dynamic in interactions with his countrymen. Many Iraqis, he said, see the U.S. uniform and assume he's just another American soldier. As soon as they learn of his background, though, they become suspicious of him.

He recalled a recent discussion with an Iraqi police officer speaking candidly to him about possible criminal activity by other police officers. When it dawned on the officer that Aldawoodi was Iraqi, he expressed concern about speaking too freely. Many officials in the security forces are reluctant to speak out about corruption within their ranks for fear of retaliation, Aldawoodi explained.

"I reminded him that I am an American soldier, and that he had nothing to fear from me," Aldawoodi said.

"I reminded him that I am an American soldier, and that he had nothing to fear from me."

Wow. Read the rest about Aldawoodi's work in Iraq, his plans for the future, and becoming a U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony in Baghdad on the 4th of July.

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