Marine breaches communication barriers in Iraq

9 Apr 2007 | Lance Cpl. Stephen McGinnis

Give a Marine some time to get creative and the right tools, and he can breach nearly any barrier you place in front of him. However, there is one barrier that Marines have difficulty breaching in Fallujah: the language barrier.

Marines of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Personnel Security Detachment, however, have Lance Cpl. Mohamad H. Salameh, a 25-year-old mortarman from Saginaw, Mich. A citizen of Lebanon, he is fluent in Arabic and is the battalion commander’s interpreter.

The battalion is currently conducting combat operations in direct support of Regimental Combat Team 6, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Fallujah, Iraq.

Interpreters are needed to accomplish missions. That fact puts them at a heightened risk of being harmed so the Marines they assist with translation duties protect them vigilantly.

Salameh, like all Marines, is a rifleman first. He goes on foot patrols, fills sandbags and clears houses, but all the while assists his Marines by breaking the language barrier.

“He is awesome. He will call out a vehicle (checkpoint) and is the first one to reach the vehicle,” said Staff Sgt. Jason R. Hart, a 29-year-old Personnel Security Detachment platoon commander from Saginaw, Mich. “He has a lot more authority than a civilian interpreter. He is Marine that speaks Arabic. He is not an interpreter, he is a grunt.”

His language abilities have been employed by each of the companies in the battalion to assist them during various operations.

“I help the entire battalion with the skills I have that not many other Marines have. I help out in the intelligence shop and have worked with all of the companies,” said Salameh.

“He always volunteers to help out the companies that are short on interpreters and he helps translate documents for the intelligence shop,” Hart said. “He is a very busy Marine and he never objects.”

He bridges a gap between Fallujah citizens and Marines.

“He is not only our platoon interpreter, he is the go-between guy for the mayor of Fallujah, the police chief and all the (Iraqi) battalion commanders and our battalion commander (Lt. Col. Harold Van Opdorp),” Hart said.

He not only provides security for his fellow Marines, but he also is able to help the citizens of Fallujah by explaining to them the PSD’s intentions and their desire to help the Iraqi people.

Salameh lived in Lebanon until he was 19 and lived through many years of strife in his native country, so he has a good understanding of the Iraqi people.

“I know exactly how they feel. I lived through the civil war in Lebanon. Being Middle Eastern and looking at the situation in Iraq, I believe we are doing the right thing for these people,” he added. “We are serving the people and the community of Iraq for their freedom. It is time for them to be able to live their lives and speak their minds rather than being ruled by a dictator and we are fighting for that.”

He has the trust of his Marines and being of Middle Eastern decent he gains the trust of the Iraqi people quickly.

“We can really trust him, which is one of the biggest things. We know he is a Marine and we have that comfort level with him, knowing … he is very tactically aware,” said Lance Cpl. Benjamin L. Arnold IV, a 21-year-old mortarman from Ann Arbor, Mich.

Salameh joined the Marine Corps as part of a long term goal to become an American citizen and work with the FBI.

After proving his mettle on the battlefield, Salameh can know that when he swears his allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, he has already earned the respect and admiration of his fellow Americans.