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Veteran Helps Bring Ex-Iraq Military Interpreter, Family to US

A U.S.-contracted interpreter speaks with an Iraqi woman during a presence patrol on June 13, 2010 in Diyala Province, Iraq. (Getty Images/Warrick Page)
A U.S.-contracted interpreter speaks with an Iraqi woman during a presence patrol on June 13, 2010 in Diyala Province, Iraq. (Getty Images/Warrick Page)

WASHINGTONVILLE, N.Y. -- The Iraqi man risked his life to help American soldiers in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion, and for years afterward he and his family lived in fear.

There were the death threats, and the day when someone spray-painted "traitor" on the side of his house.

"I changed my residence four times in order to be safe and keep my family and kids safe," said the man, who asked to use his nickname "Dodex" because he still fears for his safety.

Dodex and his family now live in the United States, part of the country's repayment for the sacrifices he and other Iraqis made while helping U.S. soldiers as interpreters during the campaign to rebuild the country's infrastructure and institutions.

His family acknowledges a debt to Vincent Lang, a New York City police officer and Washingtonville resident who befriended Dodex when Lang was a sergeant with the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2003; as well as to other members of Lang's unit; and to U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney.

It was Lang and his unit members who stayed in contact with Dodex after they left Iraq and spent years writing letters in support of the interpreter's quest to get a visa to live in the United States.

And it was Lang who wrote Maloney's office, which months later accepted his request for help as Dodex's application for asylum with the U.S. embassy in Baghdad stalled.

"They put their neck on the line, just like we did for this country. And for us -- just leaving, and now they got to fend for themselves with no protection -- it was only right that we did the right thing for them," Lang said.

Dodex was one of six interpreters hired in June 2003 to assist Lang's unit, which was stationed in a town called Hilla and tasked with rebuilding the local jail and training its Iraqi guards.

Together every day, sometimes from 5 a.m. until midnight, the Americans and Iraqi interpreters became more than just friends. They shared meals and celebrated birthdays together. Dodex invited the unit's soldiers to his wedding in September 2003, although the men were not given permission to attend, for security reasons.

"They treat us like brothers, not friends," Dodex said.

More than 1,700 interpreters who helped American troops in Iraq have received immigrant visas since 2007, according to Maloney's office. Dodex and others who stayed in Iraq faced not only threats, but death. Lang and other soldiers in his unit continued to write letters to their local representatives and to the U.S. Department of State.

Hindering Dodex's effort was the challenge of proving he worked for the U.S. military after the private contractor who hired him left.

"At every point we thought it was going through, and it would just stall," Lang said.

Four months after Lang wrote a letter to Maloney's office, one of the congressman's aides called him asking for more information. Lang was also asked to have Dodex sign a release so Maloney's office could get information on the case from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Maloney's office asked the embassy and the State Department to assist Lang in getting the necessary documents.

"Sergeant Lang's interpreter did everything he could to help our guys in Iraq, and we need to turn around and make sure we do the same for him," Maloney said.

One day in October, Lang was working when his phone began to vibrate. Dodex was calling from Iraq with great news: He had received a text message that his family was approved for a visa. Both men were "ecstatic," Lang said. Still wary of his safety, Dodex told only his parents, brother and sister about leaving for the U.S. He is still concerned, and wants to keep secret for now the city where the family lives after flying to the United States around Thanksgiving.

Like any family in transition, they are adjusting -- getting settled into new housing, applying for health insurance, looking for work. But it's a "beautiful life," Dodex said. At first, "We did not believe that we are in the United States. It's like a dream when we wake up. It's like a beautiful dream."

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This article is written by Leonard Sparks from The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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