News: Interpreter perseveres through war to help establish peace
Story by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret,
Multi-National Division - Center
BAGHDAD – Logan Salah has been hit by nine different improvised explosive device attacks and car-bomb explosions. In one, shrapnel and dust caused him to lose part of his vision in one eye. In another, his head struck a fire extinguisher so hard it left a crack in his helmet. His 21-year-old face has been nicked and scarred aplenty.
These experiences may not be unusual for a member of the coalition forces involved in operations in Iraq. Except, Salah is not a Soldier; he's an interpreter.
"I'm really happy to work with all coalition forces, said Salah, who is now with the 10th Mountain Division as the interpreter for Col. Jay Flowers, operations officer for Multi-National Division – Center.
"I keep doing it because the coalition wants to help this country, and I want to help the coalition because this country needs a lot of help," he said.
In 2004, Salah said he and his unit would encounter three to four attacks a day. Now, he will go months without an incident.
"We were hit [by attacks and] car bombs all over. Very, very rough," he said about the conditions in the beginning. "At least right now I can go out and not worry about IED and car bombs like before."
In the past, people in the streets and markets refused to sell anything to Soldiers out of fear of becoming targets. Now, their interaction is a daily occurrence. At the Zoo, families ask Soldiers to take pictures with their kids. During patrols, they invite Soldiers into their home for tea and share meals. The markets and stores are full of vendors eager to call Soldiers over for a sale.
"I can see it," Salah said about the changes happening around him. "Coalition forces, they're not stopping [from] fighting terrorists and bringing this country peace."
Salah was originally born in Mosul and raised in Dakouk, in northern Iraq. He has been working with U.S. troops since 2003, when he first started as a member of a cleaning crew for a unit stationed north of Mosul. He developed friendships with American Soldiers and learned to speak English on his own. He never received any formal language education, but within a year, his English was solid enough to request work as an interpreter.
Now, Salah speaks four languages, including Turkish and Kurdish, in addition to English and Arabic.
Since 2004, Salah has worked with several units that rotated through their service in Iraq. With each new unit, Salah found his motivation in the dedication of the Soldiers he met.
"Any time I see Soldiers who left families miles and miles away, [I realize] if these Soldiers didn't want to help this country, they would not be here," he said.
On missions, Salah helps bridge the communication and cultural gaps between coalition and Iraqi leaders. When he talks with Sheikhs, he wants them to understand that coalition forces are in this country to help their leadership and unite their villages, as well as improve the quality of life for their people.
Communications, particularly translating military terminology, are always a challenge. Salah said his biggest struggle had nothing to do with getting two countries to communicate.
"It is a really hard job. It is hard seeing your best friend lost in front of you ... but if I don't help them, Coalition forces don't have knowledge," he said.
In his four years as an interpreter, close to 40 Soldiers Salah befriended has lost their lives. His eyes swell when he tries talking about them and the friendships he formed with them.
His family, too, has been hit by terrorist violence. His brother-in-law, cousin and uncle have all been killed, and his own life has been threatened four times: three times by phone and once by a note left at his house. After those family deaths in 2007, Salah's mother took two fatherless children into her home. Her concerns for his life caused Salah's mother to urge him to leave his work.
"I told her I'm not quitting," he said. "I'm gonna keep doing it; and I'm not going to stop; and I'll do the best I can to help coalition [forces]."
His resolve has been paying off. He sees before him a country and a people who are moving on from the violence, heading toward a future of prosperity and without fear.
"Now, I can promise myself I'll be all right," he said about going on missions and accomplishing his job.