Refugee to Marine

By Lance Cpl. Kyle McNan | 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION — Cpl. Ali J. Mohammed, a supply Marine from Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, is serving as a translator with an SPMAGTF Advise and Assist team that supports Iraqi forces as they fight to oust ISIL from their country.

But he’s not your average Marine translator.

Mohammed was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, until the age of 16. When most teenagers are busy preparing for prom or heading to cheer on their high school for Friday night football, Mohammed and his family were forced to leave the only home they knew. After his family received numerous threats from extremists for their role in supporting the U.S., Mohammed and his family chose to move to the United States.

“I had to face a lot of challenges coming to America,” Mohammed said. “Trying to learn English and working to help support my family while going to high school was difficult.” Despite the challenges Mohammed faced, he graduated from high school less than five years after coming to the United States.

On Nov. 4, 2014, Mohammed made a life-changing decision, one that would bring him back to Iraq. On that mild fall day, he raised his right hand and swore his oath of enlistment into the United States Marine Corps. His story is like many who take that oath, one that includes a desire to serve his country while being part of something larger than oneself.

When recalling childhood memories from Iraq, he spoke about his sister who used to translate for U.S. Marines.

“Seeing her work so closely with these Americans, how much she trusted them and seeing how much they wanted to help us made me idealize them as a child,” Mohammed said. “It is part of the reason I decided to join the Marine Corps.”

Mohammed’s current role highlights the partnership between SPMAGTF Marines and the Department of Defense with Iraqi military members by translating pertinent information to support their operations.

“To be able to read, write and speak Arabic is normal to him, and for him to be a U.S. Marine and understand how we operate is just phenomenal,” said Maj. Ryan Hunt, the team leader for the SPMAGTF Advise and Assist team operating in Northern Iraq. “He’s just a pleasure to work with and is a huge asset to this team. He’s had such a positive attitude and is very mature — sometimes I forget he’s only 23 years old.”

Mohammed speaks a unique dialect of Arabic and is no stranger to serving as a translator while forward deployed.

“My first deployment was the most difficult, but the most rewarding,” Mohammed said. “There was an Army hospital in (Iraq) that was full of Iraqi causalities from attacks by extremist groups in the area. I did everything I could to help as many people as possible. I would sit there with the patient and they would try the best they could to tell me where they were hurt or what was wrong. It was an experience I will never forget.”

“America is my home, but Iraq is my homeland,” said Mohammed. “My biggest motivation right now is to help drive these extremist groups out of my homeland, and being able to do that as a United States Marine is the most rewarding thing I could have asked for.”

Mohammed’s next goal in the Marine Corps is to utilize his skillset while serving with the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. He strives to apply his ability to speak, read and write Arabic to MARSOC’s core capabilities of direct action, special reconnaissance and foreign internal defense.



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