HIT, Iraq -- When Sgt. Keith M. Wagner, a squad leader with 3rd Platoon, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, learned he would be deploying to Iraq last year, he enrolled in the Survival Level Arabic Course to communicate with the people.
He became so interested in the language and the people that he began studying independently in his spare time and after classes with his teacher who is from Baghdad.
A year later, as he walks the streets of Hit, one would think he was a linguist because of his proficiency in the language. But he insists that he is still learning about the language and its people.
“The more time I spend here working with the people, the more I learn,” the Drums, Penn., native said. “I’ve learned so many new words and dialects and still find out new things each day.”
Wagner’s interest led him to volunteer to stay after his initial deployment with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, who departed in February. He received orders to 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines and continues to put his mastery of the language to use.
His language skills are a great help when it comes to working with the Iraqi soldiers and it even helps build camaraderie amongst them.
“For an American who is not a translator, but a fellow troop, that can speak their language is very commendable to them,” the 2001 Columbia County Christian School graduate said. “They always come and talk to me when they have any questions about Americans and our country.”
In addition to helping the Iraqis understand American troops, he also educates his Marines on customs and courtesies of the people in their area.
While the language barrier is often frustrating to most squad leaders trying to communicate with the Iraqi Security Force soldiers, Wagner is able to brief the ISF and explain their movements so they can accomplish their missions more efficiently. He even teaches them other troop leadership movements, which they incorporate into their everyday missions.
During patrols, Wagner speaks with people who are often surprised to learn that he speaks their language.
“It helps establish an instant connection with them,” the 22-year-old said. “I think that taking the time to learn their language garners their respect.”
With his knowledge, he more easily solves problems and answers questions. He knows that simple things, such as how to properly greet and say goodbye, leaves people with a better impression of Multi-National Forces.
As he prepares to return home, his interest in the Arabic language and the culture that surrounds it has shaped his future ambitions.
“I want to attend Temple University and learn more about Middle Eastern languages and cultures,” Wagner said smiling. “I hope to return to this country one day and see it with a stable government, a successful military and no insurgency… and to think I had a small part to play in it.”