Sunday’s Washington Post had a great article detailing Army Soldier Blake Hall’s memories of the young interpreter that was assigned to his platoon in 2007, and with whom he developed a close friendship with. Nicknamed “Roy” to shield his identity from would-be insurgents who liked to target Iraqis working for the U.S., “Roy” was tragically killed in 2008 while on patrol with the the U.S. soldiers who relied on him so much. Blake writes that:
Roy had been my interpreter for nine months, but he needed to work a full year before he qualified for a visa to come to the United States, so we had to leave him behind when our rotation in Iraq ended. I was filling out the visa paperwork for him in a friend’s apartment in Chicago when I got the news. The e-mail from a lieutenant in Baghdad ended with “I’m so sorry.”
I hope it was quick. I hope that the 55-gallon drums filled with explosives that surrounded the abandoned house in Diyala province made the end a bright white light and then peace. I hope he didn’t have time to be scared.
The New York Times reported on the January 2008 explosion: “The courtyard was a scene of devastation, strewn with medieval mud brick and modern cinder block, shattered alike by the explosion that killed six American soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter.”
The story listed the soldiers’ names. But not Roy’s. Now, as my country’s combat troops leave Iraq, I would like Roy to be honored along with the American heroes who have fallen in that war. The first step is to tell his story and to give at least his true first name. I can say it now because he is in a place where no more harm can come to him.
His name was Mohammed.
In many cases, American soldiers become very close to their Iraqi colleagues, who help them navigate a culture and language that many of these young Americans know little about. Many returning soldiers became so endeared to their former Iraqi interpreters that they sought to help them in securing a visa to the United States. The dangers for most Iraqis employed by the U.S. were so great that many sought to leave Iraq as they and their families had become targeted by insurgents as “collaborators.”
Blake’s article pays homage to his colleague and friend, and reminds us of the large debt we still owe to all those Iraqis who volunteered to serve with us in Iraq.