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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