By Maj. Juanita Chang, 25th Infantry Division TAC PAOJanuary 10, 2007
MOSUL, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 11, 2007) - Eight years and many small miracles later, Spc. Jotyar Tile retuned to his native land and will be serving both his countries.
Tile remembers the day his family fled northern Iraq after years of bombing and terror by Saddam Hussein's government.
"If we had stayed one more day we would not have made it out alive; they were using chemicals against us and destroying our villages," Tile said.
"My father was a hard-headed and proud Kurd and did not want to leave our home. We were the last family to leave Qumri," he said.
For years his family had endured the anti-Kurdish campaign led by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
"I remember every Friday we had to dress up and wear army clothes to school and march around and raise the flag and act like soldiers," Tile said. "Saddam demanded we do this from about age 5 and up."
In August 1988, then-18-year-old Tile, his parents, five sisters and seven brothers fled his home in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq to a refugee camp in Turkey.
Tile said the refugee camp conditions were appalling with approximately 16,000 refugees in tents in four to five square miles. Refugees were not allowed to work and all had fled with no belongings; not even bringing pots to boil water. Many became ill and died because of the poor health and hygiene conditions, and simple preventive medical issues like frostbite were rampant, he said.
"Then, one day, the U.S. and U.N. visited us and asked if we wanted to go to the U.S. or Europe," Tile beamed. "I said 'yes, I want to go to the U.S.,'" he said, but his parents declined and they returned to their home in 1992 along with his siblings.
On Sept. 29, 1992, Tile arrived in New York City as a refugee and was given a green card. Within days he moved in with a sponsor in Fargo, N.D.
"I did not know anything about the U.S. except California and New York," he said. "And I didn't speak a word of English."
Tile explained how "a very nice and beautiful lady volunteer named Karen Harris" changed his life.
This lady, with whom he has not had contact with in years, taught him how to speak English, drive a car and got him his first job for $4.25 an hour.
"I would love to contact her and thank her but don't know how," he regretted. "When I received my first paycheck, I went back to social services and thanked them and told them I didn't want any more of their help," he said with a smile.
He said they tried to tell him that he could continue to receive support for months, but he said he wanted it go to someone else who really needed it.
"I wanted to join the U.S. Army ever since I came to the U.S.," he said, "to show my appreciation for everything they did for my people."
However, Tile did not have a high school diploma and did not know how to obtain a general equivalency diploma.
The next several years meant several moves for Tile. He moved to Sioux Falls and worked in a meat-cutting factory cutting pork "even though, as a Muslim, I do not eat pork." He also lived in Nashville, Tenn., and Georgia.
Eventually he learned through a friend about a special program allowing native language speakers to join the Army as interpreters.
"I contacted this guy and they flew me out to California and I joined the Army as an E-3 after taking the ASVAB test, physical, language exam and others.
"Since then I have also recruited two others," Tile said.
After completing basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Tile found out he was assigned to a unit scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan.
"I went to my commander and told him I would do my duty as a Soldier, and I would go anywhere they told me to go. But I asked him not to rely on me as an interpreter for Afghanistan because I do not speak those dialects," Tile said.
Within a few weeks, and with some help from his first sergeant, Tile was reassigned to a unit deployed to Iraq. Upon arriving in Iraq, he joined his new unit, the 352nd Corps Support Battalion from the Army Reserves out of Macon, Ga. The unit performs a wide variety of logistical support for coalition forces serving in northern Iraq.
Tile said he has spoken with his family, and they now know he is back in Iraq and are proud of him for serving both his countries. He will spend his deployment in the Kurdish region serving as an interpreter and will be only an hour or so from his original home and family.
"My first goal is to make enough money to fix my family's roof and to help them." he said.
When Tile's family returned to their village in 1992, there was nothing left, and the family was forced to start over and rebuild a house in a different location.
Tile, now 35, said he loves his family and wants to help them and still misses his mother's cooking. He hasn't seen his family in more than 14 years.
"The U.S. did a lot for my people and this is only a little bit that I can give back," Tile said.