Guardsman's background brings cultural awareness to Iraq
June 8, 2010
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- Michigan Army National Guard Spc. Anna Jonkman, 22, says she has a keen sense of cultural awareness. To her, it is a natural instinct she applies daily while escorting Iraqis to work here.
Assigned to the 1073rd Support Maintenance Company, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command, Jonkman hails from Grand Rapids, Mich. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in dance performance and choreography from Hope College in Holland, Mich.
Jonkman said her cultural awareness comes naturally, because of her education in multi-cultural dance - she has taught at the Grand Rapid Ballet - and because she is an African-American adopted and raised by Caucasian parents.
The specialist is the youngest of seven adopted children. Two brothers are Korean; two sisters are Indian; another sister is African-Korean; and a fourth sister is from Bangladesh.
"I grew up in a world where no one looked like me," Jonkman said. "That has made me more aware of other people's customs, languages and culture."
Today, Jonkman is learning Arabic from local Iraqis, she said.
"I have two full notebooks of Arabic words they have taught me," Jonkman said. "I taught myself the accent first. Now, I think if I recognize two words in a sentence I know what they're talking about."
Jonkman intends to obtain her Master's degree when her Iraq deployment ends.
"My college has an affiliate dance company -- semi-pro -- and I would like to be the director of it, but you have to have a Master's degree to teach and direct there," she said.
Staff Sgt. Richard Hardy, a squad leader with the 1073rd and a Perry, Mich., native, described Jonkman as a "go-getter" soldier.
"It doesn't matter what job you assign her," he said. "She'll get it done."
The Iraqis she meets seem to strive to learn different languages, Jonkman said. "They quickly adapt to whoever is around them, whether it is our soldiers, Ugandans or British soldiers," she said.
Jonkman also said she's fascinated with the Iraqis' dedication to prayer.
"I'll watch them 'smoking and joking' during work," Jonkman said. "Then, they get quiet and go behind a security barrier and do their prayer. Sometimes they'll use an empty sandbag for a prayer mat.
"I love this experience," she continued. "I remind myself I had to take two plane rides and a 16-hour bus trip to see this."
Jonkman said she joined the Michigan Army National Guard during her senior year of college for the life experience and to help her family.
"I'm doing something to help my family," she said. "America is my family."
Jonkman said she's happy to serve in Iraq "and to learn from the Iraqi people."