Live Blogging an Embed: Life of the interpreters

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Oct 28 22:00:34 UTC 2008

Live Blogging an Embed: Life of the 'Terps'

By Eric Owles
This blog is part of a series of posts providing live updates on a
reporter's embed with Marines in Ramadi.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE TASH, Iraq (5:46 p.m. Iraq time) — I was
finally able to see the home for E Company, First Regimental Combat
Team, Second Battalion, Ninth Marines this morning in the light of
day. The base seems smaller than I first thought it was last night
when Captain Brian O'Shea gave me a tour in dark. F.O.B. Tash
shoehorns around an Iraqi police station, and the Marines work closely
with them on maintaining security in the area.

The mud has cleared up today and I took the opportunity to walk around
this morning and introduce myself to some of the Marines. I found some
sergeants who agreed to let me bunk with them tonight, and I watched
part of the movie "Blow" with some other enlisted men before they had
run off to clean the showers. While hanging out near the smoking pit I
met three of the eight bilingual Arabic-English speakers who work as
interpreters for the Marines. Six of the eight came to Iraq from
Jordan, and they all expressed frustration that despite years of
working alongside American soldiers they are unable to receive the
same visas as the Iraqi interpreters.

Ahmed, 25, has been in Iraq for about 18 months. He said he was
enticed to come to Iraq because he had heard that after one year of
work as an interpreter he could get a green card to come to the United
States. "But we were surprised this opportunity was only for Iraqis,"
he said. Like each of the interpreters I interviewed, he asked that I
not use his last name.

They said that if people in Jordan knew they were working for American
soldiers they would face trouble.

"When we go back to our country there are a lot of Iraqi tribes back
in Jordan," said Abu Hakim. "If they knew they would kill us."
The Jordanian interpreters said that the length of their service to
U.S.forces in the Iraq war should earn them entry to the United
States. "The Marines deployment is seven months," Ahmed said. "They
leave, come back and we're still here." He said that he has applied
twice for a green card and been rejected twice.
Firas, 38, said he has a 5-year-old son in New Jersey who he says he
has never seen. "My girlfriend is American," he said. "I am serving
America, and I can't see him."

The Jordanian interpreters said they have lost friends and seen
friends wounded in firefights. Ahmed said the interpreters believe
snipers seek them out as targets because without them the Marines
can't do their jobs.

Before the Jordanian interpreters arrived in Iraq, they said the
Marines used Shia interpreters inside the largely Sunni province of
Anbar. "They don't work well," Firas said. He said the Shia
interpreters would try to get the Sunnis in trouble, but that the
Jordanians were more impartial.

Abu Hakim, 30, has been working in Iraq since 2001. Each of the
interpreters has an Americanized nickname. Abu Hakim's is Kojak.

Today, Kojak left E Company today for a new job managing a group of
interpreters in Habaniya. The job is a step up for him, but it will
mean living in a more dangerous area.

"I learned more about Iraq in one day with you than 32 years of
books," Captain O'Brien told Kojak.

E Company held a ceremony to mark Kojak's departure and each of the
Marines lined up to hug Kojak goodbye.

Captain O'Shea promised that he would write a letter in support of his
application for a green card. "I know you've seen Iraqis come and go
and it's frustrating for you," the captain said. "Hoorah," Kojak
replied. A few minutes later he boarded an MRAP armored vehicle and
left the base.

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