From Soldier to Citizen

An Iraqi Translator becomes a Guardsman and an American

SGT Abbas Mousa outside Joint Force Headquarters, District of Columbia National Guard

The official looking piece of paper that came in the mail wasn’t what Abbas Mousa thought it was. The Baghdad, Iraq, native thought he was being told to report for duty to help his new country. Instead, it was his U.S. Selective Service registration card.

Even though it was a mix-up, Mousa remembered the excitement he felt to be asked to serve the U.S. military again. It was because of his service as a translator for American troops in Iraq that he was able to immigrate in 2009 to Wisconsin, where he was working as a team leader at a warehouse for an Internet retailer.

He found that he missed military life and the camaraderie that comes with it.

“Living on a base for almost three years, the first American culture I learned was the military culture. I learned to love America before I’d seen America,” he says. “You bonded with these Soldiers on a personal level. They’re your friends, they’re your buddies.”

So after talking with military friends, Mousa decided to join the Wisconsin Army National Guard. He could serve close to home, near his family, and, because Guard service is part-time, he could still have a civilian career and get a master’s degree.

“Plus, I really felt like I would want to do something for my State, for my city, because the fact that I escaped the city that I love, Baghdad, kept haunting me,” he says. “I didn’t stay and defend my city, but I had no choice. There’s no organization or even a military that I trusted that I could join. Even the Iraqi military was corrupt.”

Not that working for the American military, which had occupied Iraq since 2003, sounded like a great option to him, either, back in 2006.

After graduating from college, Mousa worked for a construction company that eventually asked him to run a project on a U.S. Army base near Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, which was considered a safe area. It was either that or move back to Baghdad, which was dangerous, he said.

He was also wary of American Soldiers.

“I’d heard bad things about the U.S. military, especially after the Abu Ghraib [prison] scandal happened.”

But ultimately, he decided not to judge the American military as a whole based on the actions of a few. He accepted the job, and decided to trust what he saw with his own eyes rather than what he heard in the media.

He liked what he saw, and the Soldiers on base liked what they saw in Mousa, because once his project was complete, he was asked to become a translator for the military. He served in that capacity on the base for the next 2 1/2 years. He was also able to get his sister a job as a translator on base, which is what laid the groundwork for both of them to settle in Wisconsin.

Mousa’s sister and a Captain in the Wisconsin Army National Guard fell in love and got married on base, and, by coincidence, Mousa had a brother and sister who were already living in Wisconsin as refugees.

Because of their service to America, Mousa, his sister, and their family would always be targets for terrorists if they stayed in Iraq. They were able to obtain Special Immigrant Visas, which were set up by Congress for Iraqi and Afghani translators to immigrate to the United States.

And while he had fond memories of his homeland, Mousa said he didn’t think twice about leaving it.

“My mom always said the country where you have a home and a family – that is your country, that is your home.”

After joining the Wisconsin Guard in 2011, where Mousa worked as an 89B Ammunition Specialist and a 92A Automated Logistical Specialist, he was able to become a U.S. citizen.

After he finished his master’s degree in economics he decided to move to the Nation’s capital for a job as an economist in the Department of Commerce, and transfer to the Washington, D.C., Guard, where he is a Sergeant.

Washington appealed to him, in part, because it has an active storytelling community. In fact, you can hear SGT Mousa tell his story of living in and fleeing Baghdad, complete with his near misses with a car bomb and a kidnapping, on The Moth.

In his new city, SGT Mousa has been activated for three Guard missions, including helping with crowd management for two events on the same weekend in January – the Presidential Inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington – where the politically opposite audiences were enthusiastic and expressed their gratitude for the Guard’s presence.

“I met a happy crowd from two different parties with way different views on things,” he says. “I was happy both days.”

SGT Mousa says one of the benefits of serving in the Guard is being able to take pride in helping the community.

“I felt weak so many times in Iraq,” he says. “I will know what to do if my State ever needs me, and I know we’re probably far away from any collapse like what other countries are facing, but it’s good to know that you’re ready whenever you’re needed.”

So if you’re interested in stepping up to serve your community and your country, consider joining the Army National Guard, which offers training in more than 150 careers. Check out our job board to learn more, and for personalized assistance, contact your local recruiter

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State Spotlight: Indiana

81st Troop Command Trains to Defend Nation Against Large-scale Disasters

EDINBURGH, Ind. – What would happen to the social order if a massive flood left people in an Indiana community stranded in their homes? What if an earthquake were to decimate the infrastructure of a city in California, or if a hurricane demolished a small town on the East Coast?

It may be difficult to fathom, but how would the nation’s population react if the unthinkable happened, and a major U.S. city became the target of a nuclear attack?

A fundamental duty of the Army National Guard is standing ready to respond to catastrophic scenarios such as these. Every year, Indiana’s 81st Troop Command trains alongside other emergency service specialists to ensure they are prepared to answer the call for all citizens of the United States, no matter where they live.

Forces from the 81st Troop Command are trained to work overseas or on the home front, including disaster situations that occur outside of Indiana. If a large-scale emergency overwhelms the first responders of another state, the Indiana National Guard must stand ready to answer the call.

The 81st Troop Command collaborated with disaster response specialists from across the Nation last week for Guardian Response 2017. The annual exercise is a multi-national, multi-organizational training exercise focused on preparing troops to efficiently respond to an international or domestic catastrophe.

National Guard members take part in a crowd control exercise during Guardian Response 17. Simulated riots were staged in order to prepare first responder groups to react to a major crisis. (Photo by SGT Evan Myers.)

National Guard members take part in a crowd control exercise during Guardian Response 17. Simulated riots were staged in order to prepare first responder groups to react to a major crisis. (Photo by SGT Evan Myers.)

The 81st War Eagles worked out of a Joint Operations Center (JOC) at Camp Atterbury to support an assembly of emergency response forces from across the Nation. Troops in the field conducted 24-hour search and rescue exercises at Muscatatuck Urban Training Facility.

“They’re training to be able to respond immediately to any kind of event that requires some kind of decontamination,” said CSM Dale Shetler of 81st Troop Command.

While live training exercises took place in Muscatatuck, the organization of the action for Guardian Response occurred behind the scenes.

“We’re doing a lot of 24-hour JOC operations this year,” CSM Shetler said. “It’s not always a lot of field training, so that will be different for some of our Soldiers. But it’s also a big part of their jobs, just like picking up their weapon and marching through the woods, so it’s good training.”

The event allows Indiana National Guard units to develop their capabilities and improve their overall readiness by working alongside other organizations with a substantial number of experts in emergency response procedures, said BG David N. Vesper.

“We get to liaise and work directly with a variety of agencies,” BG Vesper said. “We work with Title 10, the federal Army. We work with FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and FAA, and it allows us to understand their capabilities and limitations so we can work more effectively.”

National Guard forces from multiple states prepare troops to coordinate operational strategies with civilian agencies in the event that the Soldiers are required to deploy to a different state.

“For 81st Troop Command, our value is in commanding and controlling a response to a large national incident,” BG Vesper said. “It is a fortunate fact that Indiana is – from a natural hazards point of view – one of the safest states in the Nation. So should there be a large-scale national disaster, it is likely that Indiana will go assist other states.”

So if helping your State and your country is something you want to do, consider joining the Army National Guard. Besides training for disasters, you’ll also receive training for a career. There are more than 150 options to explore on our job board.

And because Guard service is typically part-time, Soldiers are able go to college or vocational school using the Guard’s education benefits, and pursue civilian careers. For more information, contact your local recruiter.

From an original story by SGT Evan Myers120th Public Affairs Detachment, which originally appeared in the news section of in May 2017.

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State Spotlight: Washington

Combat Medic Skills Help Soldier Save Lives in His Civilian Job

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – When Deputy Sergio Sanchez arrived at the scene of a drive-by shooting during a night patrol shift with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Spanaway, Wash., he found a man bleeding from his leg.

Sanchez, 28, a six-year veteran in law enforcement, exited his squad car with his personal first aid kit and instantly went to work.

The victim had a bullet wound that went straight through his leg and was bleeding profusely. Within minutes, Sanchez stabilized the man’s injuries with gauze and a tourniquet for transport to the local hospital.

Sanchez didn’t learn his life-saving skills on the police force. He also serves as a combat medic (68W Health Care Specialist) with the Washington Army National Guard‘s Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 146th Field Artillery Regiment.

“I knew exactly what injury he had and immediately I knew what to do,” he said, referring to the gunshot victim. “It was essentially what I learned in [combat medic] school [at Fort Sam Houston] in San Antonio.”

Having formal military training as a combat medic has given Specialist (SPC) Sanchez an extra skill set that often sets him apart from his peers in the police department.

“We don’t usually see that kind of qualification and experience with a brand new deputy,” said sheriff’s department Sgt. Glen Carpenter, Deputy Sanchez’s shift supervisor, adding that most deputies do not have formal training as a medic or a first responder.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Sergio Sanchez also serves as a Specialist and a combat medic in the Washington Army National Guard.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Sergio Sanchez also serves as a Specialist and a combat medic in the Washington Army National Guard.

The drive-by shooting was not the only time SPC Sanchez has used his Army medic skills in his capacity as sheriff’s deputy. Several weeks after that incident, he was called to the scene of a hit-and-run where he found a man lying in the middle of the road.

“When we got closer we saw a large amount of blood coming from his head,” he said. “He was not responsive and barely breathing.”

SPC Sanchez said his training kicked in, and he stabilized the victim’s neck and spinal cord. He applied gauze and pressure to the head injury, and soon the injured man began to show signs of life.

“He eventually started moaning, so that was a good sign,” he said. “I just kept him stabilized until [the] fire [department] got there.”

SPC Sanchez was hit with the medic bug when he was a young boy and came across an old first aid bag from his father’s time in the Army.

“[I] was immediately drawn to what was inside, and spent hours studying the many different pieces of medical equipment,” he said.

However, even with his training, SPC Sanchez said he doesn’t think he, alone, saved these two people’s lives. As a combat medic he is trained to treat, stabilize and move patients on to higher care.

“I just treat and stabilize until fire personnel get there. They start doing [higher level] medical intervention.”

Being a combat medic allows SPC Sanchez to be a much more valuable commodity to the profession he loves so much.

“Being a deputy … I love it,” he said. “Not every day is the same. Being a medic adds a way for me to be helpful and effective to the citizens and my partners.”

So if you’re looking for a way to help your fellow citizens, consider joining the Army National Guard, which has a dual mission to serve the community and the Nation.

Service in this branch of the military is a part-time commitment, and this flexibility allows Soldiers to pursue civilian careers. You’ll receive training for a Guard career, too. Check out our job board to explore more than 150 options, in fields like engineering, aviation, military police, medicine, and armor and field artillery. And for personalized advice, contact your local recruiter, who can also walk you through the Guard’s benefits like money for college.

From an original story by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith, National Guard Bureau, which originally appeared in the news section of in May 2017.

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