The unsung hero in this war is the Iraqi interpreter. We work with a dozen native Iraqis who provide linguistic support to our public affairs operations. From translating our stories for local release to interpreting conversations between soldiers and Iraqi reporters, we could not effectively tell the story to the Iraq population without their help.
Although they are well compensated, they don’t work for us just for the money. They work to combat the mindset among their people established by Saddam Hussein and so their families can enjoy freedom.
Despite their love for Iraq and its people, interpreters are hunted by the same people who want to see this historic country fail and turned into another dictatorship. Three weeks ago, terrorists followed one of our translators home and fired three bullets in her back as she stepped out of a taxi cab. The terrorists target the families, too. They learned of one interpreter, who belonged to a high-profile, well-off family. These criminals waited until the translator’s mother and father were home alone, walking into their large house with AK 47s. The details of what they did are too horrific to explain, but I will tell you that the couple’s daughter still works for us.
Just as I am motivated to help the Iraqi people through words and photographs, our interpreters do not let death threats affect their determination to make Iraq a better place.
Despite the dark rings outlining their eyes from lack of sleep and constant fear, they get to work at 8:30 a.m. and do not leave until as late as 9:00 p.m. Why?
One interpreter, who wished to be unnamed for security purposes, told me: “God bless America for sending their soldiers to help the Iraqi people. I thank them. I believe they are truly doing good work here and that by working hard, I am contributing to the future of Iraq. I am helping my wife and my baby.”
He’s also making a lot of friends. There’s not one person in uniform who doesn’t relate to our interpreters. I’m doing the best I can to learn Arabic, a very difficult language, and the translators are improving their English by talking to us all the time. But, the most interesting aspect of our relationship is the fusion of two very different cultures. For example, they are afraid of Microwaves. Popcorn is popular among the soldiers here, and when we place a bag in the Microwave, the interpreters take off running for cover as if the bag contained nuclear explosives.
In meetings, they will leave to pray. They break five times a day to pray. At first, I didn’t know how to react to somebody sitting on their knees kissing the floor. But, now I appreciate their faith and most of all I appreciate their friendship and dedication to rebuilding Iraq despite the constant danger.
That’s why I call my Sadikis (Arabic for friends) Batal (Arabic for heroes).