NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER FORT IRWIN, Calif. --
Throughout U.S. operations in the Middle East, the Marine Corps and other branches of the military have made great strides toward establishing friendships with the Iraqi people.
Although some of these relationships may only last during a deployment, some do continue to grow as years go by.
Spc. Sherhan, translator, 51st Translator Interpreter Company, who asked his full name not be released to protect his family in Iraq, and Capt. Andrew Kressin, company commander, Company D, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, reunited at the Army’s National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., Jan. 18 - Feb. 2, after working together in Iraq in 2003.
Sherhan, a Baghdad native, began working as a translator for Coalition forces in 2003.
“I saw an ad in the newspaper that said the U.S. government was looking for interpreters to assist the military,” said Sherhan. “I went to the Coalition Provisional Authority Headquarters in Baghdad and submitted my paperwork. After passing my English test, an Army major called me and said I had been accepted for the job.”
Sherhan and five other translators were assigned as interpreter supervisors in charge of 40 to 45 other interpreters who assisted coalition forces in their daily operations. During this time, he was transferred to Taji, Iraq, where he met Kressin.
At the time, Kressin was assigned to a Military Transition Team, formerly known as Advisor Support Teams, where he assisted in the initial training of 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Iraqi Army, after the fall of the Iraqi government.
“Sherhan helped us bridge the language gap,” said Kressin, a Beloit, Va., native.
“We held several training classes in Taji, and he would interpret what we said.”
Kressin and Sherhan quickly became friends at the training center in Iraq. Sherhan taught Kressin how to speak Arabic during their downtime, but he did not need much help with his English, since he had graduated from the University of Baghdad with an English major.
“He taught me most of the Arabic I know,” added Kressin. “I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but I can hold my own in a conversation.”
Although the two were becoming fast friends, life was not always easy for Sherhan. Because of his role as an interpreter for U.S. and Coalition forces, Sherhan and his family were threatened by insurgents and insurgent supporters.
“In 2006, the U.S. government started a program to give the interpreters special immigrant visas so we could come to America,” explained Sherhan. “When I got here, I moved to Texas and worked as a hotel manager for five months.
“Capt. Kressin and I exchanged e-mails before he left Iraq, and when I told him I was in Texas he was very surprised,” he added.
Sherhan decided to join the Army in April, and attended basic training and Advanced Individual Training in Fort Jackson, S.C.
“I didn’t hear from him for about six months after I found out he was in Texas,” added Kressin. “Then one day he wrote me an e-mail saying he had joined the Army at which point I found out he was at Fort Irwin.”
Kressin knew that he and the rest of 3rd LAR would be headed to Fort Irwin to conduct pre-deployment training.
Once I got here I went to his command and they let him attach to us for the training, explained Kressin.
“I’m really glad he got to come out here with us,” he said. “We didn’t just sit here and reminisce about Iraq though. He helped the company out a lot.”
During the exercise, Sherhan translated information handouts to help the role playing Iraqi people better understand the battalion’s intentions within the scenarios, made security checkpoint signs and shared his knowledge of Army infantry tactics with the Marines. He also assisted during important meetings between Marine leaders and role player community leaders.
“He taught us several different security formations to use when escorting VIPs,” said Sgt. Steven Rossa, squad leader, Company D, 3rd LAR.
The McLean, Va., native also took advantage of the unique opportunity to brush up on his Arabic language skills.
Sherhan traded in his temporary visa for U.S. citizenship Feb. 5, during a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles. He also hopes to deploy with Kressin and the rest of the Wolfpack this spring, even though he is in a different branch of service and there is no easy administrative precedent. However, his accomplishments thus far prove where there’s a will, there’s a way.