Born in Iraq, raised in America
Stryker Brigade Soldier's passion to help comes from his past
QAYARRAH, Iraq - Pfc. Husam Razaq Almusowi was born in Iraq, but raised in Dearborn, Mich. When asked: Where are you from, he replies "that's a difficult question." According to his fellow Soldiers in the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, Almusowi's journey to become an American Soldier is an unforgettable tale of courage and sacrifice.
A young boy
Born in the southern Iraq city of Samawi, Almusowi lived the life of a prince. His room was covered in marble and his peers treated him like a god. In the Arabic culture, the name Almusowi is of great prominence. All Almusowis are thought to be descendents of the Islam Prophet Mohammed.
Even as a child, grown men would stand to their feet when Almusowi walked into a room and call him sir. "My family name garners great respect from Muslims, both the Shia and Sunnis," he said.
His father commanded a tank division for the Iraqi army, a position that contributed to the reverence of the Almusowi name. Although he was a brigadier general in Saddam's army, Almusowi's father did not believe in Saddam Hussein's leadership.
"My father never had a bad thought of any man except for Saddam," he said. "All I knew about Saddam was that he was not good for Iraq."
Almusowi's father knew a lot about Saddam Hussein and he didn't hide his feelings about the former dictator. Weeks before the first Gulf War in 1991, he and several other men attempted to overthrow Hussein's regime and end the decade of tyranny his people had endured.
Saddam's Republican Guard discovered the general's plan and a judge sentenced Almusowi's father to death. "The judge told my father that he would do him a favor by hanging him while he was young, so he wouldn't sit in prison for the rest of his life," Almusowi said.
On day one of the Gulf War, the United States bombed Iraqi military facilities in Samawi and the prisoners escaped during the chaos. Almusowi was scheduled to be hung on the day he walked out of prison, but he would not see his wife, three boys and two girls for another five months.
As the bombing continued in the first days of the war, Almusowi could feel the impact of bombs and could see the billowing clouds of smoke from the window of his room.
"I was just a kid," he remembers. "I was too young to know what was going on and too young to be scared."
Escaping the bombs, large groups of Iraqis, mostly women and children, fled to Saudi Arabia, where they hoped to find safety at a refugee camp. Almusowi remembers the journey as if it were yesterday.
"We hitchhiked and walked all the way across the desert," he said. "We camped out in the desert of southern Iraq and in the desert you can't see anything at night. I remember finding a star and didn't know what it was."
When Almusowi awoke, he still had the metal insignia of a star in his hand. The morning light revealed the horror of their surroundings.
"There were dead soldiers all around us and the star was an officer's rank," he said. "We spent the next day burying them and then we continued to move toward the border."
Once they reached Saudi Arabia, the group was lost. "All we saw was desert, but we kept moving, hoping we'd find somebody or one of the camps."
With little water and food, the women and children walked through the endless desert for five days. Then, when it felt like his feet couldn't take another step, Almusowi heard a thumping sound from a distance.
"American Soldiers driving Bradley's found us," he said. "They were so kind to us. My father always spoke highly of the Americans."
Almusowi's first introduction to an American was a U.S. Army Soldier handing him a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE).
"I'll never forget it. I ate the Skittles," he said.
The Soldiers transported Almusowi and his group to Rafah, Saudi Arabia, where he would spend the next 10 months living in tents, away from the only country he knew and separated from his father. He was 11 years old.
The United States
Almusowi can't remember the exact day he was reunited with his father, but he does recall being overwhelmed with emotion.
"When my uncle and father showed up in our camp, I was so happy," he said. "My family was together again."
As he'd done for so many years, Almusowi's father comforted his children, assuring them every thing would be all right. He was right.
Each family at the refugee camp selected a country where they wanted to live. Almusowi's father selected the United States.
"Dad chose the United States because it was like the promised land, where nothing was impossible," Almusowi said.
The day the Almusowi family boarded a plane to the United States was also the first time Almusowi saw the earth from the clouds.
"My first plane ride was for three days all the way around the world," he said.
When Almusowi's feet touched American soil, he began to embrace his new surroundings.
"The first week we were there, a bunch of the Iraqis went to the beach," he said. "It wasn't a culture shock seeing women in bikinis for the first time, but it was definitely different. Iraqi men jumped in the ocean in blue jeans. We were all just so happy to be in the United States."
The Almusowi family moved to Dearborn, Mich., where a large Arabic population resides. Almusowi began to learn English immediately.
"The first thing I saw on television was the show Cops, and the words to the song "Bad Boys" were the first words I ever spoke in English," he said.
The next 11 years of his life would be much different than his first 11. Almusowi became an artist, played soccer for Fordson High School and received a bachelor's degree in history from Michigan State University. He married and witnessed the birth of his child. He was living the American dream as a citizen, yet his homeland remained in shambles.
Returning to Iraq
Almusowi joined the U.S. Army when the United States was threatening war against the regime of Saddam Hussein in an effort to give something back.
"I wanted to give back to the country that gave me so much opportunity and to help the country that gave me life," he said.
In basic training, drill sergeants frequently asked Almusowi if he was ready to go to war in Iraq. Almusowi always said yes, but with a follow up statement.
"I always said we're not at war with Iraq. We are at war with Saddam Hussein, the Ba'ath Party and the terrorists, who do not represent Iraq," he said.
When he re-entered the country seven months ago with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Almusowi drove through his hometown of Samawi as the convoy headed north.
"During the convoy from Kuwait to Iraq, I was speechless and to this day, can't fully explain what it feels like being back in Iraq," he said. "I absorbed every little thing on the trip - from the rocks to the houses to the people on the streets waving at us."
But the longer he's stayed in his place of origin, the more he realizes his homeland's plight.
"I see so much hunger, pain and destruction," he said. "This is not the Iraq I remember."
As an interpreter, Almusowi does not settle for what he sees. He's in Iraq to make a difference.
On many occasions, Almusowi is the lead interpreter for important meetings between Coalition leaders and top Iraqi government officials. Considering Arabic and English are complex languages with few similarities, his leaders place a lot of faith in his abilities.
"He's a great interpreter and a good kid," said Capt. Matthew Lillibridge, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps liaison officer for 5-20. "He definitely has a lot more responsibility placed on him than your average private first class."
There are times when Almusowi doesn’t sleep because he's translating letters thought to be written by terrorists. In his spare time, he teaches ICDC soldiers how to read and write Arabic and English. In the town of Qayarrah, Lillibridge said Almusowi has won over every Iraqi he's spoken to.
"He receives instant respect from the Iraqis because he's an Iraqi and an American Soldier," Lillibridge said. "Almusowi is an invaluable asset to our efforts in Iraq because they can see the passion he has for the Iraqi people when he talks to them. He's won the respect of his fellow Soldiers as well for his commitment to the United States."
Almusowi's passion for the present comes from his past.
"I don't want what happened to me to happen to another kid. If I can make a difference in one person while I'm here, I've done my job," he said. "Who knows where I would have ended up if the American Soldiers didn't find us 13 years ago?"
"The way I look at it, I'm doing my duties as a Soldier and a little bit more because I am Iraqi."
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