Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Life after Iraq: Refugee begins career in uniform

Aug. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Pvt. Mari Hamid holds the pencil she received when American soldiers visited her grade school in Iraq. These soldiers inspired Hamid to enlist.
Pvt. Mari Hamid holds the pencil she received when American soldiers visited her grade school in Iraq. These soldiers inspired Hamid to enlist. (Dawn Arden / Army)
  • Filed Under

As a young girl, Mari Hamid wanted to be in uniform because she “thought soldiers were bad­ass.”

As a teenager, Hamid and her family escaped their native Iraq as it crumbled around them, crossing into Syria. Their situation — “single mom, two teenage daughters, working almost 24 hours a day and can’t afford living” — landed them a rare visa, courtesy of the United Nations. She ended up in Massachusetts shortly before her 15th birthday.

As an adult, she’s fulfilling that childhood dream — one strengthened by positive interactions with U.S. troops in the war zone.

Pvt. Hamid graduated basic training July 2 in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and will serve in the Massachusetts National Guard while attending college, with the goal of becoming a doctor.

Hamid, 20, said she contacted a recruiter last summer after talking to a college classmate who served in the Guard.

Two days before taking her Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, she broke the news to her mother.

Was she pleased to hear of the career choice?

“She was not at all,” Hamid said in an Aug. 7 phone interview — an attitude that started to change “once I went to basic, because she knew how dedicated I was to this. ... She loves me too much, she has to love what I want.”

Hamid’s mother wasn’t the only one with doubts. The new recruit worried her fellow soldiers wouldn’t welcome an Iraqi into the fold. And the sound of gunfire brought back memories of Iraq that were difficult to control — in an Army news release, Hamid told of breaking down in tears after hearing the first shot.

Hamid went to her drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Thompson, for assistance. He suggested speaking with a chaplain, who “did a great job in helping me,” she said.

As for the culture shock, Hamid’s experience wasn’t much different from what any recruit would face.

“I was so scared that I would get a lot of racist feedback from people,” she said. “I was scared that people wouldn’t respect me as an Iraqi in the military, but it turned out to be totally fine.”

That behavior by men and women in uniform echoed Hamid’s experiences as a young girl in Iraq. She recounted a story in the release about receiving a camouflage-coated pencil from U.S. soldiers while in sixth grade, and remembered being impressed by their kindness and respect in the battle-scarred nation.

She still has the pencil. And as her citizenship papers work their way through a bureaucratic maze — a lengthy process she began at basic training — she’s learning those Army values from a soldier’s perspective.

And, like all recruits, she’s picking up a few other tidbits.

“They’re teaching me some phrases that we didn’t say in Massachusetts,” she said. “I had a battle buddy from Louisiana tell me what ‘throwing shade’ means. I didn’t know that. Like, having a problem with someone. ... The rest of them I can’t say to a reporter.”

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan
Rates

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.


This Week's Air Force Times

This Week's Air Force Times

System breakdown?
Tech made chief in 7 years despite 2006 conviction

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

Classifieds
MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.
Woman who cried rape
(3 replies)
   Last Post: TJMAC77SP
        May 3, 2014 1:32 PM
   Last Post: garhkal
        May 1, 2014 5:03 PM
Cliven Bundy
(45 replies)
   Last Post: Chief_KO
        Apr 26, 2014 9:49 AM
Handbooks

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook