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Why I Serve: Medic Can Say It All in Three Languages

By Sgt. Dan Purcell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 5, 2004 – "I was always interested in the Army, especially, the training and discipline," said Spc. Ahmad Mohamad, as he described the day he passed an Army recruiter in Puerto Rico and decided to see what he had to offer.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Spc. Ahmad Mohamad, a combat medic with the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, uses his interpreting skills to help a local sheik express his concerns to Capt. Joe Heaton, the battalion's civil military operations liaison officer. Photo by Sgt. Dan Purcell, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

But his journey to serving in the U.S. Army started long before that visit.

"When I was 2 years old my father decided to move our family to Palestine because he always believed that we should learn new cultures and languages when we can," Mohamad said.

Mohamad has a unique heritage: His father is Palestinian, and his mother is Spanish.

Moving then from Puerto Rico was easy for Mohamad, and being so young made adapting easier. He said it was very exciting living in Palestine, and it was a very good experience to learn about typical Arabs' lives and customs, how they think and the little nuances in how they deal with each other, he said.

Today the 29-year-old soldier is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, and is fluent in three languages -- English, Spanish and Arabic.

"I think my father was right," he said. "My childhood was really amazing, because during the early '80s things were still quiet over there (in the Middle East)," he said. "There were no troubles, Jewish (people) and Palestinians used to hang out together. But about a year before I returned to Puerto Rico, the intifada started. It became more difficult to study because the schools were closing, so my parents felt it wasn't best for me to stay and decided to return home."

By then fluent in both the Arabic language and customs, Mohamed returned to Puerto Rico at the age of 14, where he graduated from both high school and college.

"My major in college was physical chemistry," Mohamad said. "I received a scholarship from the (Dr.) Ronald McNair Foundation. I was one of 20 students the foundation selects every year from the United States and Puerto Rico."

With just two classes shy of obtaining his degree, Mohamad received an offer to attend a medical school in Mexico, where he spent the next six years of his life.

"In Mexico I finished my four years of medical college and got my diploma, but I didn't finish my internship because it took all my time and in Mexico you don't get paid while in training," he said. "So between long hours in training and study I had no way to support my family, I dropped the internship and returned home to work for my brother who took over my father's business."

After spending about five months helping his brother, Mohamad realized that he wasn't cut out to be a businessman.

Then came his visit and signing up with the Army recruiter. "I think I was too excited to join because I never looked at the contract, and the next thing I know I'm on a plane heading for Ft. Benning, Ga. I chose to be a medic because I wanted to stay in the medical field and I thought at some point I would be able to finish getting my medical license."

After basic training, Mohamad was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, and then deployed with his unit to Iraq.

Currently, Mohamad can be found working at Camp Hawk, home of the 303rd Iraqi National Guard Battalion, where he manages to put all his skills to work.

"Here I continue to work as a medic. Usually the ING and American soldiers come to me when they have a medical problem or condition, even people from the local community come for consults," Mohamad said. "I am also assigned to help interpret because I am fluent in Arabic.

Besides working with the Iraqi interpreters, Mohamad also serves as a liaison between his command, local sheiks and the media. Conversations move effortlessly from sheik to soldier as he skillfully interprets their concerns, questions and answers.

"Working as an interpreter is great, especially in this environment because it helps the time go by faster and it is a good distraction, but it doesn't give me much time off," he said. "When I'm not working, I'm on call any time of the day or night, so I don't do much else. My future goal is to finish my internship and get my medical license in America, maybe even becoming a commissioned medical doctor."

(Army Sgt. Dan Purcell is a member of 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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