FORT IRWIN, Calif. – The no-distractions training at the U.S. Army National Training Center, meant to prepare units who are slated to deploy, can rotate between hard, frustrating and exhausting. The long hours and limited contact with family and friends back home can begin to wear on a Soldier's morale, but one sergeant is setting a positive example with her endlessly upbeat demeanor and goal-oriented attitude.
Sgt. Ikram Saleh, 51st Translation and Information Company, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, is stationed at Fort Irwin, Calif., and works with units during their NTC rotation as an interpreter, an Arabic-speaking role-player and a cultural awareness expert. She maintains an on-call status throughout the rotation and helps fill missions as needed.
"I get to learn a lot," said Saleh, describing the variety of missions at NTC and the different units she is able to work it. "I've been in the Army for less than two years, and I need all the experience I can get. This kind of task can help get you a lot of information in a very short time."
Saleh, a married mother of two teenagers, was born in Egypt and lived previously in Atlanta before joining the Army. Before joining the Army, she spoke only the Egyptian dialect of Arabic but has since learned the Iraqi dialect. She said that although each Arab country speaks their own dialect, Egypt is like the "Hollywood" of the Arab countries, and that most movies are made there. As a result, most Arabic speakers can understand that particular dialect.
On her first deployment, Saleh was attached to a Special Forces unit for a humanitarian mission in Iraq called "Good Heart." The mission assisted an Iraqi girl in getting life-saving medical attention in Portland, Maine.
"I'm speechless about it. I have to say I take pride doing my job but this one touched my heart," said Saleh. She described how before the operation the little girl had a blue tint to her lips from a lack of oxygen and that although the little girl was only six, her internal organs were similar to that of a 40 year old.
"The operation was successful and when the girl returned to Iraq she was in great health," Saleh said.
Saleh said that her favorite part about being a Soldier is keeping a high level of physical fitness.
"I love PT [physical training]. I adore it," she said. Saleh was the first female in her unit to score more than 300 (maximum score) on the Army Physical Fitness Test and the first sergeant to score 350 on the extended grading scale, a score rarely achieved. "I like to set high goals for myself. I like my kids to look up to me and say 'hey, mommy did that.' I have to set a good standard."
After the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment completes their NTC rotation, Saleh will begin training with the Fort Irwin 10-miler Team. The team will compete in the Army-10 Miler race in Washington D.C. in October, the largest 10-mile race in the United States.
Saleh's commitment to excellence and willing-to-learn attitude has endeared her to the 3rd ACR Soldiers she works with during the current NTC rotation.
"She's always on time. She's very helpful. I've been very impressed with her work," said Staff Sgt. David Botts, Regimental Support Squadron, 3rd ACR. Botts noted that her positivity helped to boost the morale of the Soldiers around her and exemplified the behavior of a non-commissioned officer.
"I think that the Soldiers are gaining a lot here. She's able to teach small phrases and words [in Arabic]," said Botts. "I think it encourages them to want to learn more."
Saleh's biggest goal for the near future is to learn Dari and deploy to Afghanistan. She said that Dari is similar to Arabic and shares a common alphabet.
"I think it would be a great accomplishment to speak two languages for the Army," said Saleh.