By K. Cherry, United States Marine Corps Reserves
In the days prior to the beginning of the Iraqi war, a young infantry Marine was assigned to serve as an Arabic translator and advisor to our battalion. He was a native Iraqi who had immigrated to the United States in the mid-90’s after Desert Storm. His job was to help train the Marines on Iraqi language, society, and culture to ensure that our inevitable interaction with the civilian population was not awkward or embarrassing.
Curious about his story, we asked him how he had come to be in the United States. He told us that when he was a young boy in Iraq during the first gulf war, he had met and interacted with the Marines. He recalled that while passing through his town, the Marines gave out food and candy to some of the local children, and he had been one of them. Being instilled with a sense of awe and purpose from that experience, he said that it was from that point that he wanted to come to the United States and become a U.S. Marine. Now that he had achieved that dream, he articulated how even more meaningful it was for him to be able to travel back to Iraq to help his countrymen by directly supporting the same people who had inspired him years ago.
It was a coincidence that this young Marine was later assigned to our team as a translator when our contract linguist quit shortly after the beginning of the war. The young Marine was in our team’s vehicle when we rode into Baghdad. As we slowly trolled through the crowd of cheering Iraqis, he waved and greeted them in his native tongue. For the Iraqi men, women, and children who were close enough to the vehicle to hear him speak, jubilance turned to utter amazement and disbelief. I and the rest of my team could see the confused but excited look on the Iraqis’ faces as they watched the young Marine speak to them in perfect Arabic and laugh as he cracked colloquial Iraqi jokes in an impromptu standup routine from the back of our canvassed vehicle.
The Iraqis were obviously curious about how a fellow Iraqi came to wear the uniform of a country most thought was only inhabited by white Christians. The young Marine told the star-struck audience his story about his childhood and expressed his hope that he might be able to inspire some Iraqi children as he had been years before. As we slowly made our way through the streets of Baghdad, the young Marine handed out food and candy to the Iraqi children, and we watched the warm smile on their faces, knowing another generation of Iraqi youth had been inspired.
Reprinted with permission from America’s Heroes: Stories From Today’s Armed Forces, © Whitman Publishing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.