Often, young people join the Army to see more of the world and widen their small-town perspectives.

Pfc. Souheil Sarrouh, assigned to Company A of the 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry, joined because of what he had already seen of the world.

And he didn't like what he saw.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Sarrouh is not the typical fresh-faced kid right out of high school. He is 42 years old and has lived in the U.S. for the past 23 years. His family left Beirut to escape the war but Sarrouh was so young at the time, he didn't realize how beneficial moving to the U.S. was. It took a return trip to his homeland to make him realize how good he had it in the states.
Visiting a sister he had not seen in 23 years, Sarrouh said he was dumbfounded by the corruption and poor standard of living in Beirut.

"Going back really opened my eyes," he said.

His sister's daily routine is a far cry from family life in the U.S.

"They eat meat once a week, while we have it every day -- almost every meal," Sarrouh explained. "They can't afford to."

In addition, the electricity is so unreliable that people rarely store food in their refrigerators. They buy groceries daily, sometimes even marketing several times a day for each meal. Heating and cooking is done with propane, which is purchased at the market, also after extensive waiting.

"They don't have delivery of anything; there are no pipes in the ground, except water," he explained.

"Even then, water is only delivered three times a week, but you never know when it will come. You leave the faucet open all the time so you'll hear when the water starts flowing. Then you fill up buckets for all the water you'll need for cooking and cleaning. Everybody takes a shower - even if it's the middle of the night. And no one complains. That's how it is over there."

He explained that Lebanese are accustomed to waiting for everything - it's a daily thing -- while Americans get annoyed if they must wait 20 minutes at a restaurant.

He also witnessed a level of corruption that he was not aware of before. He recalled an incident where he saw a pedestrian struck by an automobile during his visit. The pedestrian was badly hurt and because Sarrouh is a volunteer first responder in his hometown of Parma, Ohio, he rendered first aid. He accompanied the injured man to the hospital, which refused treatment until money was paid in advance.

"He was a human being, for God's sake," Sarrouh declared. "And they treated him like a dog."

Becoming more and more aware of the contrasts, Sarrouh said he realized how many simple things of American life he had taken for granted.

"Here, I'm never hungry; I could always find a job. It might have been scrubbing toilets, but I could always find a job. To get a job in Lebanon, you have to know someone," he explained. "If you are born poor, you'll always be poor unless you go the 'crooked' way - selling drugs or getting involved with the militia."

He gave another example of the corruption in Beirut.

"To get my passport, I had to bribe everyone involved. They all had their hands out," he said. "You never know how much freedom we have here - until you live somewhere else. If you really want to know what another country is like, hide your passport and try to blend in. See how they humiliate you."

Those contrasts and his growing awareness of his good life in the U.S. led Sarrouh to a decision.

"When I returned here, I realized how fortunate I was," he said. "I felt it was my duty to show my appreciation for what I have here."

Sarrouh has a college degree and works at General Motors as a tool and dye machinist, but he has chosen to pursue a medical career with his Army training. He plans to train as a combat medic first, then pursue a degree in nursing, for more than a year's worth of education.

Fluent in three languages, Sarrouh is a Maronite Catholic who hopes to teach Armenian to his children when he has a family someday.

But for now, he is content to be in the Army.

As an older Soldier-in-training, Sarrouh said his fellow trainees call him "Grandpa."

"I'm actually kind of proud of that," he said. "They ask for my help and I'm happy to give it."

One of his drill sergeants, Sgt. 1st Class Justin Brog, noted Sarrough's maturity and its benefit to the unit.

"Pfc. Sarrouh brought the platoon together early on, offering his help to any who needed it," said Brog. "This is an important step for basic combat trainees as the importance of teamwork cannot be overstated."

Given his age, Sarrouh knew that basic training would present some challenges for him, but it's been essentially what he anticipated.

"It's hard to keep up with the younger men - they never seem to get tired," he said. "After (physical training), I'm ready to sit down and rest. But they have lots of energy."

Sarrouh tries to make the differences between himself and the younger trainees work to his advantage.

"The younger ones complain about missing their chocolate or video games," he said. "It makes me feel young again just to sit down and talk with them. Our differences are more in areas of music, movies, or hobbies. Actually, the Army brings us closer together than we would be in the civilian world. We talk about our weapons and training."

Sarrouh plans to pursue his U.S. citizenship when his elderly parents would be able to witness his swearing-in ceremony.

"We have the greatest Constitution - everyone respects the law here," he said. "In Lebanon, some live above the law. Here, everyone lives under the umbrella of the Constitution."

Committed to the U.S., Sarrouh said he had no qualms about serving in the Army, even in the unlikely event that he would face other Lebanese in battle.

"It wouldn't be a problem. Just like we don't have anything against the Iraqi or Afghan people - it's the government we are fighting against," he explained.

Thankful for his Army experience, Sarrouh credits his platoon leaders.

"I thank my drill instructors -- Sgts. Brog, Jarvis, and Lewis -- for helping me. I've learned a lot about military tactical movements, fighting, war engagements, and have learned military discipline."

Convinced there is no country or Army with higher ethics, Sarrouh said, "This is the greatest country. If the U.S. should fall - God help humanity."

Page last updated Thu March 11th, 2010 at 16:08