By Ms. Sara Goodeyon (USACE)July 1, 2010
TULSA, Okla. - He is a Soldier in the U.S. Army, and he loves pizza, cheeseburgers, country music and America.
There is nothing particularly unusual about this - except that he is also an Iraqi citizen.
Ahmed Al Jibori was sworn in to the Army by Lt. Col. Eugene Snyman, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District. Only two years earlier, Al Jibori had worked as an interpreter for Snyman in Iraq.
Al Jibori chose Snyman to administer the oath because the two men worked together for a long time to achieve Al Jibori's goal of becoming a U.S. Soldier.
Snyman said Al Jibori wanted to become a Soldier for many reasons: he loves the work, it facilitates U.S. citizenship, it's a long-term benefit to his family, it opens education benefits, and it increases the possibility of him being able to return to Iraq to do lasting good for his people diplomatically.
"It's a great honor," Al Jibori said of serving in the U.S. military. "I hope to become a good Soldier and do the best job I can. I have dreamed of becoming a U.S. citizen for a long time. I greatly hope for the honor of becoming a U.S. citizen. "
The two men met in July 2008, when Snyman was assigned as the provincial reconstruction team engineer in the Corps' Gulf Region North, where Al Jibori was working as an interpreter for the U.S. State Department. Al Jibori would interpret for hours during meetings between the U.S. Army, USACE, the Provincial Reconstruction Team, and the local government. He also interpreted for Snyman in conversations with the Tikrit and Salah Ah Din engineering staff. Al Jibori was always careful to interpret literally: he never interpreted meaning, only words, said Snyman.
Al Jibori, who grew up under the regime of Saddam Hussein, learned to speak English in school and became fluent because he was immersed with U.S. troops. He said that by acting as an interpreter, he was helping his country because most Iraqis do not speak English. A big part of his job involved helping with the process of understanding between the Iraqis and the Americans.
What was a working relationship between Snyman and Al Jibori became one of mentoring and friendship.
"He and I have had many hours talking. He is always concerned about how his cultural bent on things is interpreted by Americans," Snyman said. "I will say that he is extremely perceptive about the human condition. I would not say the mentoring was only one way - he is undoubtedly a life-friend."
Al Jibori, a native of Tikrit, remembers growing up under the authority of the Hussein regime as days of privation.
"Saddam starved us. During the 1990s he starved us to death. We used to plant wheat and the Baath Party would come and confiscate it, and there was nothing we could do about it. Then he would send it to Palestine to say, 'look how rich Iraq is, we are helping the poor countries!' And that is the way it was under Saddam. His family was there in Tikrit - a 20-year-old kid with a handgun on his side, and nobody could say anything to him, including the law."
Although Al Jibori left Tikrit, his mother, brothers, extended family and children remain in Iraq. He hopes he can bring his family to the United States for a visit and he hopes to bring his children here so they can also become U.S. citizens, he said.