PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - “There are a lot of things people don’t know about me, like my name probably,” Reyadh Alhachamy said.
Known by everyone that meets him as “Al”, Alhachamy is a humble, charismatic older gentleman with salt and pepper hair. He is always on the move, helping others and giving inspirational anecdotes, even though his life hasn’t always had blue skies. Born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, this 44-year-old, multiple-war veteran has played a role in both U.S. and Iraqi military history.
Now a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, Alhachamy is currently deployed to Afghanistan as a human intelligence collection team leader as part of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. Alhachamy believes that fate has brought him to his current path in life.
Alhachamy grew up at a time in Iraq when the country was in turmoil. The eight years of war between Iraq and Iran was still fresh in the minds of all Iraqi citizens. As a child he was forced to attend training camps to become a future Iraqi soldier. When male children became of age or finished their higher education, they were mandated to serve in the Iraqi army.
“When we were children we would listen to the radio about everything that was going on, and we were taught that we needed to be soldiers,” he said. “So one month during the summer, you would be taken to a kind of boot camp where we learned how to use weapons. That would happen every summer for four years.”
After he completed his degree at the University of Baghdad, College of Languages, where he majored in French and English, and learned 15 dialects of the Arabic language, he decided to fulfill his duty to become a soldier.
Completing basic and advanced individual training in the mid 1990’s, the then 20-year-old Alhachamy, was selected to be a member of the Republican Guard where he was a radio communications operator during Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Thirteen days after the start of the war, Jan 28, 1991, Alhachamy and two officers were posted in small mobile communications station when the government of Iraq started an operation in a small town of Al Khafji, Saudi Arabia, with the Iraqi 1st Armored Division.
“We crossed the border…and we had to fight,” said Alhachamy. “So when we got there, the trick we used was to stop, turn our barrels (from tanks) to the rear and wave white flags, as if we were surrendering to the Saudi Arabian Forces there.”
This tactic was used based off the media reporting that two days prior to the attack, a band of Iraqi soldiers surrendered to Egyptian forces. Using that trick allowed them to secure the city for two days, before they could no longer follow through with the operation. During that fight, the Iraqi soldiers weren’t expecting U.S. Marines and Qatari army soldiers would show up to support the people of the small village.
During that operation, Alhachamy was injured by coalition forces. Unaware of his wounds, he continued on his mission until a fellow soldier pointed out his injury.
“There was a lot of fighting going on, we had dismounted our vehicles and rushed the city. I got hit in my right arm, but I didn’t feel it. My lieutenant said, ‘Hey, what’s going on with your arm?’” Alhachamy said. “That’s when I looked down and saw two holes under my armpit and my hand was kind of heavy.”
“I didn’t feel any pain, maybe because I was so excited,” he added. “It was a mix of fear, excitement and adrenaline.”
Two days into the operation the message was sent to cease operations and return to their previous location. Not because it was another tactic, but because the occupation was not sustainable. When asked how he felt about serving in the Iraqi Army during that time, he said:
“As any soldier, no matter where you are or who you belong to, you feel honored to serve in a military organization,” he said. “Even though we knew the fight would be difficult and there was no chance for us to win the war…at least we had the feeling that we were defending our country.”
“Many people didn’t feel like it was a fair war invading Kuwait, but as a soldier you do your responsibilities and you do it with pride,” he added.
Time passed and his enlistment ended. He later married and had five children, but he needed to provide for his family. The opportunity arose where he could use his language experience with the various Arabic dialects to help coalition forces overcome the verbal communication barrier during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I worked as a linguist in Iraq from 2004 to 2007. Then there was a program there that allowed the local nationals to come to the States, if they were working for the Army, so I applied,” said Alhachamy.
“Less than one year later, I came to the states and joined the Army as a 09L Arabic linguist. I was deployed to Iraq where I provided language assistance,” he added.
During his deployment he felt that he was doing more for the Iraqi people than the team. Even though most of his operational expertise was just through translation with his unit and the local people, it gave him a sense that he was making a difference in the change for a better Iraq.
“My team would say that they appreciated the linguist’s because we helped them accomplish the mission, we still felt as if we were helping both sides,” said Alhachamy. “I was helping the dream of having a brighter future for my children, my neighbors and my neighborhood.”
Now deployed to Afghanistan with Task Force 4-1 and still fluent in multiple dialects of Arabic, Alhachamy helps collect intelligence from the local population to help filter out enemy fighters in the surrounding villages.
“We have a lot of things in common with the Afghan people as far as religion and some cultural things. I’m very happy to do my job as a soldier in the U.S. Army here,” said Alhachamy.
“I feel like I’m doing something more, I can see a tangible result of what I’m doing,” he said. “I can see that I’m helping to make the mission of my unit successful and the progress we are making on the Afghan side.”
The good and bad experiences he has had throughout his life have given Alhachamy a positive outlook. With this viewpoint, he motivates not only the soldiers under his charge but the people that come into contact with him.
Alhachamy has seen the eight year war between Iraq and Iran, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Through these events he is able to find correlation in his life with all of them.
“When people try to analyze the itinerary I took in my life, I see that it didn’t happen by accident. It’s fate, its destiny, It was meant to happen,” he said. “It was meant to happen to me, to go through all these experiences.”
“I think that more is coming,” he said, “and there will be more things I will be able to do.”