Iraqi Linguist Perseveres Against All Odds

11/4/2008 By Capt. Paul Greenberg , Regimental Combat Team 5

TREBIL, Iraq — W.A. Abdulameer awoke early in the morning Oct. 5, 2004, to the sound of a deafening explosion outside his Baghdad home. Insurgents had just assaulted a Coalition forces convoy.

The next thing he knew, bullets began ripping through the windows of his living room, where he, his wife and their two children were sleeping on the floor.

“It is a miracle that we survived,” said Abdulameer. “First, we didn’t know what was happening. It was after midnight, and we heard an IED (improvised explosive devise) go off. There was a few seconds of silence, and we started to get rounds everywhere; in windows, doors, walls, everywhere. I saw the rounds coming through the curtains, which started to burn. Then my car exploded as a round hit the gas tank. The electricity unit near my car caught on fire. After that my car, which was on fire, started moving, and it crashed into the kitchen.”

Within an hour, flames from the incident destroyed Abdulameer’s home, both of his cars and most of the family’s possessions.

Abdulameer, who was working at the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology as a solar energy research scientist and scientific document translator (from English to Arabic), decided to devote the next three years of his life to working with Coalition forces to establish peace and order in Baghdad.

He left the Ministry of Science and Technology to use his talent as a linguist and document translator for instructors from the U.S. Department of Justice’s police training program at the Baghdad Police College. One key component of the curriculum included ethics and Iraqi constitution classes for the new police officers.

Abdulameer explained that the work which he and his countrymen were doing at that pivotal time in the country’s history was instrumental in stemming the insurgency that threatened the fledgling democracy.

Between 2004 and 2007, the number of insurgent attacks in Baghdad plummeted significantly. Many people who had fled the city moved back. Businesses began to reopen and life returned to a semblance of normalcy.

This success, however, was achieved at a cost to the brave Iraqis, such as Abdulameer, who served in key positions or responsibility. They became targets for the insurgent network. Kidnappings and executions were a constant threat.

“I survived two suicide bombings,” said Abdulameer “One in 2006 at Baghdad Police College, where more than a hundred people died, two of them my close friends. At the second bomb, I was taking my wife to at doctor at a crowded neighborhood. We had just entered the building where the doctor was and three explosions went off. The roof started to fall in. I couldn’t hear for a week after the explosion.”

In order for his family to have normal life, Abdulameer applied for a special immigrant visa to take them to the U.S.

In September 2007, Abdulameer and his brother, who had also served as a linguist, brought their wives and children to a quiet mountain town in the Western United States.

Abdulameer’s former supervisor from the U.S. Department of Justice, a retired U.S. Army officer, generously opened up his home. Abdulameer, his wife and two children lived in spare bedrooms for about two months, and his brother’s family stayed in the basement.

Because his degree in chemistry from the University of Baghdad was not yet validated, Adbulameer had to take whatever jobs he could find in order to get on his feet. Despite his extensive work experience in Baghdad, the best positions he could land were as a salesman in a clothing store and as an evaluator for written English language assessment tests for non-native English speakers in public high schools.

The family had no winter clothing, so people from a local church donated sweaters and jackets, as well as kitchen items, furniture and bedding.

Undaunted, the families persevered.

Abdulameer’s brother, who had worked as a qualified dental surgeon for five years in Baghdad, landed a job as a dental technician. The two families moved into a larger apartment and worked day and night in pursuit of the American dream.

While doing an internet search for career opportunities, Adbulameer learned of U.S. government agencies looking to hire native Iraqi Arabic linguists in the U.S. to go back to Iraq to assist Coalition forces in handing over the security and governance of the country to the Iraqis.

“I didn’t want to go back because of all the danger I experienced as a linguist,” said Adbulameer. “I was threatened by all types of insurgents. I was scared all the time. I was lying to my neighbors and my closest friends about my job, but I believe that the best position for me right now is as a linguist to help the U.S. government and to assist the American people in defeating terrorism, which has affected my life so much.”

In May 2008, Abdulameer joined an outfit of seasoned Marine Corps officers and staff non-commissioned officers with a Port of Entry Transition Team (POETT) during their pre-deployment training in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“First and foremost, the POETT’s mission is to advise, train and mentor the various Iraqi port agencies and Iraqi Security Forces in order to achieve a higher and sustainable level of security at the port,” said Lt. Col. Boyd Miller, 38, the Trebil POETT leader from Murrieta, Calif.

Abdulameer went through three months of intense training in the California desert during the hottest time of the year with temperatures often topping 120 degrees. He was an enormous asset to the small band of Marines who, although most were combat veterans, did not speak Arabic and had never performed a specialized mission like the one ahead of them.

“(Abdulameer) joined the team and trained with us for three months prior to deployment,” said Miller. “He participated in virtually every training exercise we had, to include first aid and situational training exercises that involved meeting Iraqi role players to prepare me and my team for our mission and the cultural experiences ahead. His presence on the team has been absolutely mission-critical for our success. He’s not just a linguist, but also a cultural, religious and political advisor who has helped shape our relationship in a very positive manner with our Iraqi counterparts.”

Miller, Abdulameer and their POETT arrived at the Port of Trebil on Iraq’s western border with Jordan a few months ago. As part of Multi National Force-West, they have achieved a high degree of success, according to Miller, in empowering the Iraqi Security Forces there to monitor and operate, with professionalism and integrity, the main throughway for consumable items imported into Iraq and oil being exported out of Iraq.

“We are embedded advisors who live and work inside the port of entry with our Iraqi counterparts to achieve our mission,” said Miller. “We are a transition team working toward a transfer of knowledge and skills to enable the Iraqis to ultimately provide adequate security for their country without Coalition support.”

As the POETT continues on in their deployment, Abdulameer has found validation in the role he has long-played in shaping his native country’s future.

“The Coalition is doing a great job in Iraq,” said Abdulameer, now 33 years old, who aspires to a career in the U.S. State Department in the future. “I want to help the people of Iraq to be free and live in prosperity. Because of my experiences in the past four years, I’m fully capable of doing a great job here.”