During the Battle of Baqubah Reunion last month, Stacy Pearsall reunited with Mazin Mozan. Ten years ago, Mozan was an Iraqi civilian, and one of the many translators Pearsall worked with during her service. Mozan was gracious to share his story with us.
Mozan takes us back to his youth. He described his family as hard working and encouraging, despite hard times. He explains, “I was born on 31 July 1982 in an average Iraqi family that believed in education and professional careers more than anything else. My parents are teachers who always kept us focused on our education and our goals to become successful citizens in the future. My father struggled to provide for us despite being a teacher, because he was known for disagreeing with Saddam Hussein’s ideology and the way his regime controlled the nation. Therefor they never let my father hold a decent job.”
During Mozan’s teen years, he worked many grueling, hard labor jobs such as assembly line and construction work to help his family. This wasn’t the only thing he was doing while providing extra money.
“I worked during my five years of Veterinary school and paid for my college as well as my sister’s school,” Mozan said. “She studied Biology.”
He was already fluent in English and Arabic by this time. And the days leading to the 2003 Iraq War, the Iraqis were nervous. “[We] didn’t know what will be our next chapter, couldn’t anticipate what a dictator like Saddam could do, neither could we trust the American promise,” Mozan said. “Iraqis hesitated to trust the Americans because of what happened during Desert Storm in the 1990’s. At that time, the U.S. military marched into Iraq to defend Kuwait – only coming half way to Baghdad when the campaign was halted. The Iraqis who’d stood against Saddam were abandoned and promptly executed by Saddam.”
Mozan continues, “After the dust settled and the dream came somewhat true watching Saddam’s regime fall apart it was an overwhelming mix of happiness, nervousness and anxiety amid the chaos. Late 2004, I watched how the very troops who came to change our lives for better were being attacked by foreigners coming across the border to defend radical ideology.”
Mozan could not remain a bystander, thus allowing others to decide his peoples’ future. With his grade school knowledge of the English language, plus five years of English in college, he decided to help the American troops. “I worked as a part time interpreter while completing my senior year in college. Upon graduating, I focused completely on being a linguist,” Mozan recalls, “Financially the job offered little money compared to the risk I was putting myself and family in, however it gave me satisfaction that I was making difference. I was standing up to people doing harm to innocent citizens on both sides, Iraqis and Americans.”
The trials Mozan faced in combat from 2006 to 2007 were the most difficult. He worked with an elite unit in Baqubah, and they were involved in nearly-daily firefights with enemy forces. “Unfortunately [we] lost many brothers in arms. During those years between when I started in 2004 to 2007, my family was under constant threat and extreme risk by insurgents. The enemy knew the value of the interpreters to the Coalition Force’s mission. Without linguists the troops’ mission was significantly impacted. I was not only dealing with the risk I was facing every day, but most importantly my family, who had no protection. They faced radicals who would threaten them with harm in hopes of persuading me to quit the job. It became impossible for me to go home a visit my family. I was forced to stay on base with the troops because, every time I traveled on my own, the insurgents attempted to kill me.”
There were many horrors going on in Mozan’s life. His U.S. teammates convinced him to apply for a special immigrant Visa program. Established by President Bush, the special program allowed Iraqi linguists who supported troops during the war move to America. This was perfect for Mozan, but it involved fleeing the country. “I had no hope the Visa approval would ever happen,” he said.
It took five long months waiting in Egypt to get the news from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that he was approved for travel. “After spending everything I had while awaiting the Visa, I had little to no money. I called the only people I could rely on – my brothers that I went through combat with. I called Lieutenant Colonel Damon Holditch, who didn’t hesitate to send me money to help purchase my airfare to the United States.”
On September 17th, 2007, he arrived in Huntsville, Alabama, where Colonel Jim Bowie, Mozan’s former commander in Iraq, and Colonel Dustin Awtrey, Bowie’s deputy in Iraq, welcomed him with open arms. “They took me in into their homes and treated me like their own son,” he says. He started from square one with nothing in his pockets, and he waited anxiously to receive his green card and social security card so he could begin working. Being in America was an immense culture shock, and he had to adjust to his chosen new society. He eventually was offered a job as an Arabic linguist and deployed to Iraq once again. There was one difference though, “My salary was nowhere near the $600 a month I received when I was a local national linguist.”
Afterwards he went to Camp Pendelton, California, where he completed three months of processing and another three months of training. From there, he deployed to Iraq. After a year-and-a-half, he resigned his position and returned to the United States.
I had excellent income, reflects Mozan. An in many a friend’s eye, I’d earned the title “soldier” in all but name. However, I felt compelled to become a soldier in reality.
Mozan enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after returning from Iraq in 2009. During this time, he met the woman that he knew would be his biggest support in his journey. Mozan explains, “Sarah, who is the mother of my two beautiful children, and I met through mutual friends at Redstone Arsenal Army Base where she worked at the PX. We got Married 2 months before I departed for basic training. My first duty station was Hawaii where I served as a logistician and worked my way up the promotion ladder to attain the rank of Sergeant. Both my children were born there, my daughter, Mariam, was born on 09/19/2011, and my son, Youssif, was born on 10/02/2013.”
After serving 4 years of active duty, Mozan transitioned into the U.S. Army Reserves, where he trained to become a cardiovascular technologist. He currently works at the Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, as a contractor. Mozan is considering applying to the U.S. Army Physician Assistant Program next year and becoming a commissioned officer.
“I try to speak about my story,” explains Mozan. “I want to share how the war in Iraq presented very opportunity I got. I believe it’s my duty as a soldier to educate people and tell the truth. The friends I made from 2005-2007, where I saw most of the combat, are my family. We stay in touch. The hardships we survived made us stronger than blood brothers. Many people ask me how I faced all the stress and overcame the risk. My answer is, ‘I believed in the job I was doing and I trusted my fellow soldiers would keep me alive.'”
© Veteran portrait by Stacy L. Pearsall, story by Des’ola Mecozzi