Civil Affairs Soldier Learns Arabic Customs From Parents
September 16, 2006
LSA ANACONDA, IRAQ (September 05, 2006)--As the oldest daughter of immigrant parents, Staff Sgt. Magda R. Khalifa, an Army Reserve Soldier with the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, has provided much cultural awareness to her civil affairs unit.<br/><br/>Khalifa said her father, a Muslim, emigrated from Egypt and her mother, a Catholic, emigrated from Columbia. "It was a very unique situation," Khalifa said. "Growing up, with parents from two very different backgrounds." "Irrelevant to which religion either of them were, it taught me the values of living with both customs," Khalifa said.<br/><br/>As a young child, Khalifa still had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas. Her family followed the Ten Commandments and taught her values on how to become a good person. She said those values were passed down through both of her parents equally.<br/><br/>"I feel that they have instilled in me a lot of values, like the love of my country," Khalifa said. "As a child of immigrants into the United States, I am able to appreciate what I have, having being born in America."<br/><br/>"I appreciate the value of freedom and the rights I have as an American Soldier. That is partially why I want to serve my country," Khalifa said. When she joined the military in March 2002 in civil affairs, she said it seemed to be one of the most versatile jobs for a female Soldier. Khalifa said she primarily wanted to be a part of civil affairs because it brought the broadest range of opportunities for her to do different things in the Army. It allowed her to leave the wire too, even though she was a female Soldier.<br/><br/>Being born and raised in New Jersey, Khalifa said she enjoys eating Italian food and sushi. Approximately 97 percent of all civil affairs personnel are Army Reserve Soldiers, Khalifa said. The way the Army is structured, the Army Reserve Soldier can bring their civilian job skills to the table when they deploy.<br/><br/>"I've deployed with civil affairs Soldiers, who serve as doctors, city planners, teachers, coaches, engineers, and writers," Khalifa said. "They are able to use their civilian job skills to help develop solutions while deployed." Khalifa said she had a career as a computer consultant, working for a Fortune 500 company. She said she hasn't been in the corporate world since she enlisted, and is now in Iraq for her second tour. Her first tour in Iraq was in 2004 in the Diyala Province.<br/><br/>It is important to know a country's culture as a civil affairs Soldier, she said. "We tend to be cultural subject matter experts by either speaking the language or understanding different aspects of the culture. I am able to bring that to the table. Many things don't seem foreign to me, such as the certain dishes that they cook."<br/><br/>Khalifa said, "I feel I have a better understanding of the Iraqis because of similarities with a fellow Middle Eastern culture, being the Egyptian culture, which I was exposed to through my father's side of the family."<br/><br/>She said she visited both Egypt and Columbia while growing up. In Columbia, she enjoyed the vibrant Latina culture, the way they celebrate life, the food, and the music. Egypt was a bit of a contrast, she said, but she did love the family structure, hospitality, and the food there too.<br/><br/>"On some level, I can see similarities, and of course there are some differences," Khalifa said. "Having seen both cultures at a young age has set me up for an easier transition in deploying to different countries with the Army."<br/><br/>She not only speaks English, but Khalifa is familiar with French, Spanish, and Arabic languages. "Looking back now, it is almost like a natural predecessor to going into civil affairs," Khalifa said. "I feel comfortable working with people of different cultures who may think differently or do things differently to how we do things in America."