View Full Version : Interpreter earns respect, friendship of Marines

10-30-03, 06:23 AM
Interpreter earns respect, friendship of Marines
Submitted by: 13th MEU
Story Identification Number: 20031029103812
Story by Sgt. Mark P. Ledesma

AZ ZUBAYR PORT, Iraq(Oct. 20, 2003) -- During Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments, Marines are given opportunities to meet, bond and form new friendships with people they meet outside the Marine Corps.

While deterring oil smuggling operations in Shatt-Al Basrah, a river on Iraq's southern Al-Faw Peninsula, Marines of Company B, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, currently deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), formed a special bond with a civilian Iraqi interpreter assigned with them.

The Marines welcomed 47-year-old Bassil Kalil, an Iraqi American who volunteered to be an Arabic translator during coalition forces' operation in Iraq, into their company as though he was one of the Marines. According to Kalil, within two days of working with the unit, the Marines were talking and treating him as though he was an old friend.

"I've made a lot of good friends in this unit," said Kalil, who has been a translator for coalition forces since arriving in the region early March.

"I'm so glad to be here with this unit," he said. "I'm proud of it, because it gave me the opportunity to serve two countries at the same time. The country I live in and I'm part of, which is the United States, and the country I grew up in, Iraq."

Kalil was born and raised in Baghdad, living there until the age of 19. In 1979 he left Iraq to study in France. Before he finished school, the war between Iraq and Iran began so Kalil decided not to go back home.

"I didn't believe in the war," he said. "At the end, a lot of people died for nothing. The war started and ended at the same level."

In October 1991, Kalil moved to the United States to fulfill a life-long dream.

"You could ask all Iraqis here (what they dream of) and they will tell you," he said, "it is to go to the U.S."

Moving to the U.S. also brought Kalil closer to his brother, who studied in the U.S. and was working in the United Nations.

According to Capt. Christian M. Rankin, commanding officer, Company B, Kalil has been indispensable to his company.

"I've talked to him about many different subjects and have gotten to know him on a professional and personal level," said Rankin. "He's a very likeable individual and a great American. Talking with him (you can tell) he gets a great deal of personal fulfillment communicating with the people here so the coalition forces can help them."

"I feel sorry for the people who live around here," said Kalil. "It's important to explain to these people why we are here and why we are doing this."

According to Rankin, his Marines have formed a great deal of respect for Kalil.

"His warm personality, sense of humor and professionalism have enabled Marines to form a bond with him," he said.

According to Kalil, his missions with Bravo Company allowed him to be closer to the action, which was unlike his past assignments with the coalition forces during the war.

"During the war I was more involved with paperwork," said Kalil. "This time I was part of the action. I want to thank all of (the Marines) for affording me this opportunity to see what the Marine Corps is all about."

Kalil has also played a big part in bridging the cultural gap between the young Marines he worked with and the people of Iraq by sharing his Iraqi culture.

"Bassil has helped me with understanding his people," said 21-year-old Cpl. Christopher S. Castaneda, 3rd Platoon, Company B, who befriended Kalil.

According to the young fire team leader, his friendship with Kalil grew when he kept on asking Kalil about the culture and language of the Iraqis.

Other than how the media portrayed the Marine Corps, Kalil knew very little about the Marines before working with them.

"Everyone knows that the Marines are tough (individuals)," he said. "But you know what...some the nicest people I've met have been part of the Marine Corps."

When the Marines leave, Kalil is leaning towards continuing his job in Iraq.

"I would like to stay here a little bit longer," he said. "If it doesn't work out, I will go back home and go to a place where people might need my language skills."

If things don't go according to plan, Kalil plans on going back home to New Jersey to continue his interior design business.

"I've made a lot more friends during my time here than the entire time I've lived in the U.S.," he said. "I have a lot of email addresses and phone numbers."

Kalil's time with Bravo Company and other coalition forces in the region has left him with memories of experiences with new-found friends and given him the opportunity to display his patriotism while honoring his past.


47-year-old Bassil Kalil, an Iraqi-American civilian Arabic tranlator, kneels infront of Company B, Battalion Landing Team 1/1 Marines at Az Zubayr Port, Iraq, Oct. 22. Photo by: Sgt. Mark P. Ledesma