Friday, July 29, 2005

Welcome Aboard

Mosul, Iraq

Across Iraq, I keep running across American troops who are not Americans. Many of these soldiers and Marines are working towards attaining U.S. citizenship while in uniform, under fire, in Iraq.

I was privileged to witness the award ceremony for 12 new American citizens in Deuce Four recently. I hope America makes them feel welcome. If the folks at home could see what these people are doing in Iraq, they would make these special troops feel as honored guests. But now, better yet, they are honored citizens, giving life to the concept of active citizenship.

Today, I walked to noon chow with SSG William Suarez, from Puerto Rico. Suarez has a home in central Florida, and is as American as I am, except he comes complete with a very thick Puerto Rican accent. The soldiers love to have Suarez around; he has a great reputation under fire. One time, during a big fight downtown, SSG Suarez's voice came over the radio. With his thick accent, the commander joked at first he thought the radio had been captured by the enemy. There are at least five Spanish speaking soldiers in the fire support element, and the running joke in the TOC is that Deuce Four can do all their calls for fire (artillery, aviation, etc) in Spanish, without need to encrypt the calls.

SSG Suarez and I had lunch today with SFC Kim, who I had never met before and will probably never meet again. (Kim just happened to sit next to us at the chow hall.) SFC Kim was born in Korea 53 years ago, but he looks about 35, and didn't even join the US Army until he was 30 years-old. Kim says he's very happy to be an American, and that some of us don't realize how good we have it.

"The Q"

There's another soldier here from Mexico, Victor Quinonez. Everyone calls him Q. At 23, Q fights like crazy; he's earned his great combat reputation. I joke with Q that he'll either be a top military leader, or in trouble with the law if he doesn't listen to his leaders. And Q always tells me, "Mike, when the shit goes down and the bullets are flying, you stick with me and I'll get you out. Never fear when the Q is here! You've seen me in action. You know I'll get you out. I'm a Mexican, not a Mexican't!"

First time I met Q, I thought he was full of something, and he was, but it wasn't what I was thinking. One time, during a brief shootout, I kind of broke through a gate for cover in a house, and Q said, "Mike, what you hidin' from!" I answered, "Bullets, dumbass! Get in here!" "You come out here!" Q said, "We're gonna get these guys!" Now he's like my young Mexican-American brother and I get worried he'll get shot or blown up.

It's been true since the U.S. was founded that some of the best Americans were not born in America. And we can use all the good people we can get. That's something to remember.

New Americans: At War in Mosul
[Photo credit: Deuce Four; after ceremony in Baghdad]

Deuce Four's newest Americans:

Front row Left to Right
SPC Saroth Muth (Cambodia)
SPC David Floutier (England)
SPC Hugo Juarez (Mexico)
SPC Evans Martin (Antigua)
SPC Octavio Rodriguez (Mexico)

Back row Left to Right
SGT Ringsey Khin (Cambodia)
SPC Abdel Phipps (Jamaica)
SGT Collin Campbell (Trinidad)
SPC Bosco Jerez (Nicaragua)
SPC Jose Alvarado (Honduras)
SPC Moises Medina (Mexico)

SGT Walter Gaya, from Argentina, was scheduled to be sworn in with this group, but he was recently wounded in combat and could not attend the ceremony. He's in the United States recovering and remains committed to becoming a photo-journalist. Walt told me the other day that although his left eye is in question, his photo-shooting eye is perfect.

At Deuce Four here in Mosul, we still have 15 troops whose new citizen status is pending paperwork. These troops are from:

St Croix
And two others; I don't know where they are from.

Welcome Aboard!