Face of Defense: Iraqi-born Soldier Becomes U.S. Citizen
By Army Lt. Col. Pat Simon
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, July 6, 2009 Red, white and blue are the colors associated with American independence, but this year, we can add another color: brown.
An Iraqi-born U.S. soldier turned American citizen, Spc. “Brown,” right, an interpreter attached to the 225th Engineer Brigade, shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden during a naturalization ceremony at Camp Liberty, Iraq, July 4, 2009. Brown joined 236 other U.S. servicemembers from more than 50 countries to take the U.S. oath of citizenship on Independence Day. U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Pat Simon
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Spc. “Brown,” an interpreter with the 225th Engineer Brigade, joined 236 other servicemembers who raised their right hands and recited the oath of citizenship as new Americans at Al Faw palace here July 4.
Brown isn’t the soldier’s real name; it’s a nickname given to him by an Army officer, and he’s kept it to protect the lives of his family members who live in Baghdad.
Vice President Joe Biden and Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno participated in the citizenship ceremony. Biden commended the newly sworn-in citizens for their service and their decision to become Americans.
“You represent what America always stood for: strength, freedom, and resolve, [and] also remarkable diversity,” Biden said.
“It is an amazing feeling,” Brown said soon after shaking Biden’s and Odierno’s hands. “I was shaking -- nervous.”
Brown recalled growing up and living under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
“As a student, I remembered that we had to stay behind the wall to stay safe from the former Baath Party,” he said. “You could not talk about politics. Those that did disappeared.”
Brown received his education in civil engineering and got a job in Baghdad as a supervisor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He quickly found that his daily commute to Tikrit to check on water, sewer and electrical projects would become a frightening trek.
“The security was very bad,” he recalled. “There were many sectarian problems over here. It was not easy moving from area to area. It was very dangerous.”
He also became emotionally scarred by the way some fellow Iraqis treated him because of his tenure working for the U.S. Army.
“Many of them thought I was a traitor,” Brown said. “They called us very bad names. They did not realize that when we did our jobs, we did them for the Iraqi people.”
Brown said he felt he no longer had a future in his war-torn country. He had to leave his father, brother and two sisters behind to set a new course for freedom and opportunity in America.
Brown was granted a special immigrant visa. His first stop was in Denver, to live with his uncle. Brown tried to find a job in engineering, but he found nothing. He remembered a friend who was a former associate of his in Iraq. He called her, and within a few days, Brown and his wife were in St. Louis, staying with his friend, who suggested that he apply for a program that would change his life. He didn’t know it at the time, but it would put him back on his homeland’s soil.
Within weeks, Brown was at U.S. Army basic training as a new recruit. As a qualified interpreter, he was on the fast track to deployment to Iraq. The program also expedited his ability to receive his U.S. citizenship.
“It’s truly amazing to have this new opportunity,” Brown said.
Four months ago, Brown was attached to the 225th Engineer Brigade. He found himself right in the middle of history, engaging in conversations between military leaders from both countries. As a military engineer interpreter, Brown literally has bridged the gap between two worlds, and he has finally come to grips with his past and his future.
“It’s a big responsibility,” he said. “I know I am making a difference. This is important for me.”
By the end of the year, Brown will again have to leave his beloved birthplace behind, but the circumstances are different this time.
“My old life is over for me here, but I would like to return and visit one day as an American citizen,” he said.
(Army Lt. Col. Pat Simon serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 225th Engineer Brigade public affairs office.)