Iraqi Translator Flees Baghdad, Becomes Marine
PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. - A journey that began in Baghdad involving an Iraqi native, who used her unique, dual-language skills to help the United States’ military, took a new turn after she earned the title of U.S. Marine recently.
Rct. Aseel Salman was born into an all-female family in Baghdad, Iraq. With no males in their family, her mother and three sisters were ostracized within their community.
“I hated being looked down upon just because we didn’t have a male family member around,” said Salman, who is training with Platoon 4039, November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, and graduated Nov. 15, 2013. “I joined the Marines to prove to myself and my family and my people that I can do something great and amazing.”
Salman first encountered the United States military during college at the University of Baghdad in 2003. After an American soldier was shot, the other soldiers needed an interpreter to help with the investigation. Salman stepped up, admitting she could speak both English and Arabic, and began working as an interpreter for the U.S. Army while still attending school.
“The first two years were the hardest,” said Salman, a 30-year-old resident of Winchester, Va. “Going straight from school to the checkpoint every day and sometimes staying overnight was hard.”Salman spent six years working for the Army, going on countless raids, patrols and other missions. She said she has too many stories to count, but one came to mind immediately.
“We went out on a raid once, and I went into a house with three women in it,” said Salman. “I asked if they knew where this man was, and they all said no. Then, one woman whispered to me that she knew where he was and to meet her outside. Once outside, she warned us, saying ‘be careful, they are across the street with five loaded AK-47s.’ We later caught them.”
In 2007, Salman decided it was time to get out of Iraq due to increased violence against interpreters. She applied for a special visa under a program allowing immigrants who assisted the U.S. overseas to come to the states.
“I flew into the U.S. on Dec. 22, 2008,” said Salman of her layover in New York. “I remember it was so beautiful with all the snow. I was talking to these two other women, and I was so worried they would know I was Iraqi. They had no idea that I had never been in the United States before that night.”
Salman settled down in Houston with her husband, a U.S. military contractor who she met in Iraq. The real struggle began when he left for another tour overseas.
“I didn’t even know how to pump gas when he left,” said Salman. “I remember stopping at a gas station and crying until a nice man helped me pump my gas. I also remember the first time I stepped in Wal-Mart … it was so amazing.”
Salman said when she arrived in the United States, she immediately tried to become a Marine Corps officer, but did not meet all the requirements. Her husband, a former Marine, was her inspiration to enlist because of the pride he carries within himself.
Salman remained in the delayed entry program for 15 months before she was ready to ship to Parris Island.
“I finally joined on June 6, 2013, and turned 30 on June 7,” said Salman. “I could not have thought of a better way to spend my last day as 29.”
Salman arrived on Parris Island July 22, 2013, and originally was training with Oscar Company before being dropped back in training because she did not qualify on the rifle range. She went back four weeks in training and joined her current platoon.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason and that I was supposed to be with these girls,” said Salman.
Given Salman’s age difference over the other recruits and experience away from home for long periods of time, she often consoled them, telling them that they have a good life here in the states, no matter how bad it may seem during training.
Sgt. Sylvia Washington, one of Salman’s drill instructors, has nothing but good things to say about her.
“When she first got here, she stepped back and observed,” said Washington, a 27-year-old native of Manteca, Calif. “Once the senior [drill instructor] made her guide, she really took charge; we really depend on her for a lot of things.”
With boot camp behind her, Salman hopes on making a career of the Marine Corps but doesn’t plan to be an interpreter. She is slated to be an aviation electronics technician.
“It has been a really rough road for me, but I don’t regret anything,” said Salman.