April 19, 2004


Interpreter dodges bullets, befriends Marines (DARRIN MORTENSON, 4/18/04, North County Times)

Ehaeb barely flinched Saturday when the rifles crackled nearby.

As an interpreter for American forces in Iraq for the last five months, he says he has grown used to gunfire and recognized the shots as coming from American weapons.

So, as the close crackle of gunfire continued, Ehaeb remained comfortably tucked into a soft chair in the living room of an Iraqi home reading an Arabic novel he found there when he and a squad of Marines took over the house during the heavy fighting in Fallujah last week.

When another shot rang out, however, this one sounding louder and sharper but just as near as the first volley, Ehaeb furrowed his brow and jerked to his feet.

"That's AK," he said, identifying the distinctive crack from a Kalishnakov assault rifle ---- the preferred weapon of the Iraqi insurgents.

He rushed upstairs to investigate.

Ehaeb ---- whom the troops call "Johnny Five" after a curious robot character in the movie "Short Circuit" ---- is a native of Baghdad and a best friend to Marines fighting in Fallujah.

Because his language skills are needed on every patrol and during every operation to communicate with locals, the 22-year old computer science graduate has seen probably more combat than most of the saltiest of the Marine grunts he walks with.

"It's very dangerous, yes," said the quiet, dark and handsome Iraqi Shiite who calls all the Marines "sir."

"It's dangerous for me because I am all the time going on patrols with Marines, but I have no weapon," he explained. "It is all the time RPG, bullets, AK ---- it's crazy!"

Ehaeb first started working with Army infantrymen from the 10th Mountain Division near Diwaniyah five months ago, and then hitched up with 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers for duty in probably the most dangerous city in Iraq: Fallujah.

"At first I did it for money"' he said, explaining that he and seven of his college buddies hired on as "terps" to make quick cash from the Americans with the English language skills that they learned in the state education system at the University of Baghdad.

"Now I just want to fix Fallujah," he said with a smile and an open palm.

"Yes. I want to fix my country. I want to one day live in a place here in safety. I want my sisters and brother to live like that."

Gee, their aspirations don't seem much different than ours...

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2004 7:17 AM

LOL. Sure. The only thing this kid wants is a passport to the land of the big BX.

Posted by: Derek Copold at April 19, 2004 12:31 PM

Let's say that's true. Wouldn't we be lucky to have him? It seems to me he's the perfect anti-immigrationists immigrant: not Catholic, doesn't speak Spanish, already speaks English and, oh yeah, helped us in a war.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 19, 2004 5:32 PM

Well, his aspirations. Are there several million more of him?

Posted by: jsmith at April 19, 2004 10:39 PM