By Andriana Garrido, paralegal at Jo Ann Hoffman and Associates
*Names have been changed and faces blurred to protect the individuals involved.
I took a trip out to Iraq in July 2021, and was introduced to Moe, a remarkable Iraqi individual that risked his life to serve the US Army. His story took me on this journey that was too important not to share.
This is his story as told to me:
My upbringing in Baghdad, Iraq, was both dark and joyful. My mother recalls using a tied-up rag as a diaper for me when I was a baby because we had no money to afford anything better. When I turned 6 years old, it was a big deal because I could finally help my mother by watching my little brother while she went away to work as my father’s income was not enough. I took on the role of a caregiver at this age where I spent my days changing diapers and cooking food for my younger brother. I had a fire in me to break this generational curse of poverty and I was determined to turn it around. Despite living in poverty, I was grateful to be surrounded by loving family and friends that always helped to uplift me at my lowest. Things in my life took an unexpected turn when my father grew ill. He had to stop working so this put us in a financial hole and it became so bad, that we couldn’t even afford medication for him. At the age of 20, I started studying at Baghdad University, and it was in a class there, that I met an important person, Ali.
I formed a close bond with Ali, and he became my most trusted friend. Ali confessed that he had been working for the US Army as an Interpreter and he expressed that he saw potential in me and wanted me to join. It didn’t take much to convince me. By this time, I had seen so many wars and I was fed up with the conflict and terrorism. I watched the country of Iraq deteriorate at the hands of corrupt individuals. I had seen so many dead bodies and families lose everything they possess, being left with nothing but memories and remains of what was once home to them. Working with the US Army to help defeat terrorism, would have been an honor. I was 8 years old when I saw my first dead body laying in the streets of Iraq. In 1990, there was the war with Kuwait that left our country unstable. Then there was the war with Iran, followed by the war in 2002 that ultimately put the nail in the coffin for my country. I never knew what life was without a war. I reflected upon all of this when Ali asked if I would join him. It was an immediate yes for me. I so badly wanted to be a part of the solution despite how dangerous the task was.
Working with the US Army at the time was considered taboo and not something any Iraqi would ever vocalize. There was so much tension and if this information got out to the wrong person, it would mean your head on stick. It was something that we should not have gotten involved in and we were supposed to stay far away from. But why would I want to stay away from being a part of the solution? It didn’t make sense to most because of how dangerous it was but to me, it always felt like the right thing to do. I felt that they had the right person on their side. So, I immediately prepared myself for this new chapter of my life, one that had to be hidden from everyone I knew.
The process begins with a simple English test to see what level you are on. I immediately failed so I bought books to help improve my English, went back a few weeks later, and passed the test. After multiple medical screenings, I was cleared to work. They gave me my uniform and my undercover name, Henry. My extensive training began, and they continued to teach me English. After a lengthy process, my superiors walked me around the base and asked me which unit I would like to go to. I pointed at the biggest truck I saw because it was calling my name. The captain turned to me and said, “Welcome to special forces, Henry.”
My job was to be an interpreter, but it quickly became so much more than that. My duty was to be a bridge between the Iraqi citizens and the American soldiers. In the beginning, I would help drive the soldiers around town and interpret along the way, transporting them to their missions when needed. With time, the trust grew very strong, and I formed a bond with the Americans. They never treated me differently and the soldiers became my family. During my first year, my English improved, and I was transferred from working at the camp to working at the prison. I became a translator for the captured terrorists.
I received orders to be transferred to Camp Al-Hasan in an area called Diyala. At the time, it was a difficult decision for us to work out of this area because of how dangerous it was. The rugged terrain, forests, mountains, rivers, and lack of army presence made this area a safe haven for terroristic groups. Working with the army, you quickly learn that you have no say in what you do and there’s no such thing as backing down so we got ready to tackle this area, despite the dangers. The first mission we had out of this area, marked me forever.
The US Army works closely with the Iraqi Army to exchange information, gather intel, and fight to capture the terrorists. We received information about a terrorist leader that hijacked a school bus filled with high school females. He stopped the bus, killed the bus driver, and drove the bus to an unknown location. He then brutally raped all the girls on this bus and then killed them afterward. My task was to go on the mission with them, capture and detain him, and translate all communication. Through intelligence information, engineering effort, and aerial monitoring, we were able to locate him. This was a tough battle because we were not up against just one man, we were up against the entire group. After a long fight, we came out victorious and it was me who detained this terrorist leader. I won’t ever forget the smug look on his face. We took him back to the prison for questioning and I was there throughout the entire process, translating along the way. I had no time to be scared or back down. By this time, I had built an unimaginable level of courage and it was still just my first year. It is the most haunting and chilling experience to be next to someone who was capable of such unimaginable evil acts. As the prison’s translator, this was my new normal.
During another mission, we received information on a controlled area, Al-Mashhadani. This area was run by terrorist groups from the Al-Qaeda organization. We conquered one of the areas and after a long battle we came out victorious, once again. On our way back to the camp, I watched the truck in front of ours blow up from a car bomb. Inside this truck were two of my closest brothers. I had fought many battles with them, and I still remember watching their bodies fly into the air. Going back to the base with what remains we could find is another moment that I wish I could forget. No matter how many missions or battles I went on, it didn’t mean that it got any easier or more tolerable. I just tried to not let it get me down and would use the pain, to fuel me instead.
My first vacation back home was an unforgettable one. I was looking forward to reconnecting with my family and friends. I was returning home just in time for my friend, Bashir’s engagement party. A large group of my friends gathered to celebrate this exciting time. We were very happy while we danced and sing. We decided to go out that night to continue the festivities, but the driver got lost and we ended up on an unknown road. We hit a checkpoint and this man asked for all of our IDs. At the time, Iraq was suffering a sectarian war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This person divided us into two groups based on what we believed. I am on one side and I watched half of my friends, including Bashir, on the other. He grabbed them and directed them about 500 meters away. It was dark out so we couldn’t see much but we heard the gunshots. We thought we would be rejoicing and planning the wedding ceremony, but this night took a turn and we found ourselves planning on how to bring back our friend’s dead bodies and how to tell their families that we had to plan a funeral instead. I felt defeated, saddened, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t escape violence.
I looked forward to going back to the camp. I felt protected there and I felt like my life had a purpose. Ali was also still interpreting next to me as I had gone through this with him by my side. We worked at the base together and still managed to continue our studies in between. Ali and I became closer than ever. “Remember Moe, do not tell anyone what you are doing.” He would tell me. I already knew this though. I hadn’t told a soul, not even my mother. My family was under the impression that I took up a job offer in Syria. They grew suspicious because I sent all of my money to them, and they knew Syria scarcely had jobs. The money I received working with the Army, helped pay for my father’s medicine and everything my mother needed while she took care of him and my brother. It pained me to lie to them, but I understood the importance of protecting them, so I kept this secret to myself.
One day I was returning to the camp from a combat mission, and I heard the worst news. Someone had found out that Ali worked with the US Army and because they couldn’t reach Ali, they found his family. They brutally murdered all of them and mutilated their bodies, threatening that he would be next as soon as he returns home from the camp. I was in disbelief and immediately reached out to my own family to make sure they were safe. How could this have happened? Unfortunately, we knew that this is part of the dangers of working with the Army. I just did what I could to be there for Ali through this dark time. The pain was unimaginable, and it hurt me to see my best friend so distraught. The only light during this dark time, was that the perpetrators were caught and executed. Yet still, the fear never went away. Traveling to and from base was haunting and every time we were back home, we were constantly watching our backs. After Ali lost his entire family, I realized how very dangerous this was and I became even more protected and strict with those around me.
My time with the US Army was unforgettable. It wasn’t all dark. I made beautiful connections with the soldiers and my captain’s. I even remain connected to some of them on social media today. The support of my American brothers fighting next to me helped push me to be my absolute best. It taught me the importance of courage, commitment, and brotherhood. I have always believed that God is stronger than injustice and together we made many epics of heroism and noble sacrifices for the stability of the country. I realized that life must be built on love, sacrifice, and redemption for others to live in peace. There are many more stories I wish I could present to you but as you know, nothing is more beautiful than the homeland, living in peace, and building a better future for your family. I spent my life waking up to the sound of guns, air raids, killings, and violence, but these conditions and the harshness of life made me the conscious, balanced person that I am today. I believe that if I could get through this, I could get through anything in life. I will never give up my hope for Iraq’s stability and I will forever pray for peace amongst all.
Moe worked with the US Army and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2006-2008. His family is currently living a peaceful life in a beautiful area located in Iraq. He managed to save enough money to build them a family home from the ground up. He recently gained US Citizenship and is now working hard to create his American dream.
Moe’s younger brother became a well-respected commanding officer for the Iraqi Air Force and has worked closely with the US Army to defeat terrorism throughout the years.
Ali misses his family every day but has focused on creating a large one of his own with a wife and 6 children. He dedicated his life to serving the country next to our American soldiers and still works with the US Army today.
There are countless Iraqi’s that have been contracted to work with the US Army. Many are afraid of even reaching out to seek benefits because they would still like to keep this information very private. Moe’s story is just one of many brave individuals that have been working behind the scenes to protect the country. It is an honor to share this one and I am very proud to work for a team that fights tirelessly to get these workers the benefits they deserve.