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Arabic-Speaking American Civilians Volunteer Services in Qatar

By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service

DOHA, Qatar, Feb. 17, 2005 – They emigrated to the United States from Arabic- speaking countries, and now they are back in the Middle East, putting their language skills to use in support of the war on terror.

U.S. Central Command employs a group of civilian workers, all U.S. citizens originating from Middle Eastern nations, on Camp As Saliyah in Qatar. Though the men work full days translating and interpreting documents relating to Operation Iraqi Freedom, they also volunteer their free time to help out at the command's strategic communications section.

For at least two hours a day, each volunteer monitors a variety of Arab media outlets, including television, newspapers and Web sites. They catch mistakes and misrepresentations about U.S. activities, provide translations of pertinent materials, analyze reports on topics of interest and provide analyses of the media.

This information is used by the commander and his staff to assess how the media might be influencing people in the region and to determine if there are any emerging issues that might impact operations, according to Army Lt. Col. Nancy Gruttman-Tyler, who directs the effort at the Strategic Engagement and Response Center, an analysis office collocated with the Central Command public affairs operation at Camp As Saliyah.

"I don't know what I would do without them," Gruttman-Tyler said. "Their help is very valuable. I not only rely on their language skills, but also on their knowledge of the area."

The other military servicemember assigned to the strategic communications center in Qatar is Air Force Tech Sgt. Nicole Barkley-Lutz, an interpreter who said she enjoys working closely with the volunteers. She said their points of view provide her with valuable perspectives on her work.

"They've very helpful for me, like back-up dictionaries for meanings and definitions that I can't find in my paper dictionary," Barkley-Lutz said. "It's always interesting to hear their stories and their different viewpoints on editorials."

The first person to volunteer was Sabir Mahmood, a Kurd originally from Iraq. Mahmood, who settled in Colorado, recruited other co-workers, and the group grew. Some of the original volunteers have returned to the United States, but others have come on board to replace them. The men are each working for six months to a year in Qatar.

"As a Kurdish-American from northern Iraq, you can imagine how important this mission is to me," Mahmood said. "These are great events that are taking place. I believe American operations in the region are helping move in just the right direction."

In addition to Mahmood, the group includes Jalil Fathullah, also originally from Iraq, who now makes his home in Texas. Fathulla works the night shift during his regular job and, instead of going to sleep, he reports in to strategic communications center and works there a few hours each morning. He is ethnically half Kurdish and half Turkoman, and he speaks both languages, in addition to Arabic.

Fathulla studied economics as an undergraduate in Iraq, and received his master of business administration degree in the United States. He fought against Saddam Hussein as a member of the Kurdish resistance in the early 1990s, and he emigrated to the United States shortly after the first Gulf War. He said his background helps him do kind of work he is performing as a volunteer.

"I look at the political, economic and social issues that form a background for articles. I find a lot of editorials in the Arab press that don't show up in the English version," Fathulla said. "Sometimes the same articles will use different words. For example, an Arab article might use the word 'occupier' when referring to U.S. forces, while the English-language version might not use that word."

Atef Wahba is another member of the group, originally hailing from Egypt and now residing in California. He said he fell naturally into the job, being a "news junkie" from the time he was a child. He said he believes current operations are of great importance not only for the region, but also for the whole world.

"This is a long-term battle against evil. There are other ways to fight terrorism than with physical weapons. By developing an understanding of terrorism's root causes, we can work to remove them," Wahba said. "I hope our work here will help develop a understanding of the situation in the region."

The other two volunteers are Tony Sleiman and Nader Nader, both originally from Lebanon, and both residing in Ohio.

Sleiman said he finds the work rewarding for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional.

"I enjoy working with Lt. Col. Gruttman-Tyler. She has a great attitude," Sleiman said. "I also like being able to make more of a contribution to the CENTCOM mission, and I get to keep up with the news and improve my language skills."

Continuing U.S. operations in the region are important to world security, Sleiman said, because it shows the Arab people that the U.S. is committed to helping them.

"Arab people were afraid of taking a chance for reform for a long time. They were afraid that the U.S. would pull back," Sleiman said. "Now, with U.S. commitment in the region, you're starting to see more and more countries taking steps toward reform. This will help remove some of those root causes of terrorism."

Nader, for his part, expressed strong enthusiasm and emotion about the opportunity to help out.

"We keep our fingers on the pulse of the Arab media. We are able to help provide the commander with an analysis from the Arab point of view, and I think that is very important," Nader said. "I love doing this, because I think it will help the mission in this region, and I believe that mission is very important. I hope our work will have some impact, that we'll translate something that will make a difference. Every time we help drive a nail into the coffin of the terrorists, it is a big satisfaction to us."

Nader added that he is very proud to work under the command of Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command.

"He's the most famous person of Lebanese descent in the world," Nader said.

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