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    Bandit 6 to Helmy: Translate this!



    Courtesy Story

    1-230th Cavalry Regiment

    By Staff Sgt. Tony Sailer

    KARBALA, Iraq -- A supply specialist born in Cairo, Egypt, is always nearby whenever Task Force 1-37 Armor commander, Lt. Col. Garry Bishop (Bandit 6), goes downtown.

    Spc. John Helmy uses his native Arabic language skills to help Bishop communicate with local sheiks, community leaders and businessmen during Civil Affairs trips through Karbala.

    "At first I was not the official translator but every time Lt. Col. Bishop, a.k.a. "Bandit 6," went out I would ask to go out," Helmy said. "I kept riding with him until it became like a daily thing."

    Helmy was still doing his supply duties as well and that made for some very long days. So one day, his sergeant major told him that if he was going out everyday, he might as well work directly for the commander. "Local people did not trust the Iraqi translators at first but when they saw a soldier speaking Arabic, they felt a lot safer talking with us," Helmy said. Born in Egypt in 1982, Helmy was raised in the Coptic Orthodox Christian church. He attended high school and one year of college there before a life changing event occurred.

    In March 2000, he, his father, mother, twin sister and younger brother moved to Columbia, Pa. His father had won the green card lottery and was granted an American work visa. As a newly arrived immigrant, Helmy attended high school and then was accepted at Pennsylvania State University. He was about to accept the full scholarship to Penn State when he grew wary of his fledgling English speaking skills and decided to defer college until he could speak better English.

    A friend suggested he look into the military. The Army's educational benefits appealed to him and he enlisted in Aug. 2001, becoming a supply specialist. After graduating Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee, Va., he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. Helmy learned about a recently enacted program which allows service members with green cards to become citizens after six months of military service. He decided to apply and was granted citizenship under the program.

    Helmy became a U.S. citizen Feb. 26, 2003 in Philadelphia. "I cried that day. I couldn't believe it," he said. Helmy's position as the translator for Bandit 6 has taught him the importance of commutation and being an active listener. "I believe translating is not about word for word translation, it is about making sense out of what somebody is saying," Helmy said. "Sometimes they may use an Arabic phrase, maybe a proverb and it would make no sense in English. My job is to get you the meaning of the statement."



    Date Taken: 07.06.2004
    Date Posted: 07.06.2004 09:09
    Story ID: 60
    Location: KARBALA, IQ 

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