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United States Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ahmed M. Khalil recently completed permissive temporary assigned duty with Officer Selection Team, Syracuse, N.Y., while waiting to train at Logistics Officer School. Khalil is fluent in five different Arabic dialects and has used these skills in the past to help US troops when he was a teenager in Baghdad. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher O’Quin/Released)

Photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher O'Quin

From Iraq to Syracuse: How one man came from helping Marines to becoming one of ‘The Few, the Proud’

14 Apr 2016 | By SSgt. Christopher O’Quin 1st Marine Corps District

Now in 2016, that same boy, now a young man, is a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, assisting the Officer Selection Team in Syracuse in finding the future Marines.

Marine 2nd Lt. Ahmed M. Khalil has spent more than a decade working with American forces, both as a civilian contractor and as a Marine. To understand what has taken him from the banks of the Tigris River to the shores of Lake Ontario and beyond, one must know the hard work and skills of communication he has nurtured from a young age and his devotion to helping others.Khalil had a knack for comprehending languages early in life.  He taught himself English with help of subtitles by the age of 12, thanks in part to a steady diet of American action films. By 2003, at the age of 15, he put those skills to use assisting the military coalition in Baghdad.

“I Started helping the coalition as a translator around August 2003,” said Khalil. “It started with me hanging out at a [Forward Operating Base] inside a school in Baghdad. I started talking to Marines, and they noticed I spoke English well. From there, I kept assisting where needed.”

Being an interpreter meant helping the military navigate a language and cultural landscape far different from that of the soldiers and Marines. Khalil can speak and write in English, as well as the Arabic Dialects of Levantine, Gulf, Iraqi, Egyptian and Modern Standard Arabic. This diversity meant he could communicate between all who found themselves at the crossroads in the Middle East.

            Khalil would spend the next couple years helping the coalition with the approval of his parents as long as he stayed in school. By 2005, Khalil graduated high school and employed his people and language skills again, this time with far reaching benefits to his country and the military.

“My uncle wanted to start business with the US Government,” said Khalil.  “In order for it to work, he wanted me to help work between his company and the US due to my fluency in both languages. My uncle started me on assisting contracts as the operations manager for small contracts such as supply, construction, electrical all the way to the big ones. I was a key link between the US government and the local company and with on-site supervision.”  

As he worked, the company grew and expanded as did the scope of the projects to include water treatment plants, Camp Victory infrastructure and other facilities for the coalition and Iraqi cities.  Khalil still found time to improve himself and attend college at University of Al -Mustansyria for a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in spite of the hefty responsibilities. 

As the decade moved on, safety became more and more of a concern for Khalil, and he often moved his family around to avoid making them a target of opportunity for insurgency. He lived aboard Camp Victory, but would travel to the university, surrounded by militants.

“The University was blown up twice while I was a student, and I was on campus during one blast during the daytime working hours. I think it was a suicide bomber who attempted to infiltrate through the gate,” said Khalil. “I was lucky, but I remember that shook me up a bit.”

That wouldn’t be Khalil’s only exposure to danger, though. Some jobs would take him through the “Triangle of Death,” a hotbed of sectarian violence, in an effort to assist the coalition with re-building efforts. It was this selfless act and courage that would help pave the way for him to earn the title U.S. Marine.

“I met Ahmed while I was re-establishing the farmer’s co-op in our area of operations.  I needed someone to pick 600 metric tons of wheat seed and 300 metric tons of barley for a one- time delivery to the farmers of each Iraqi county,” said Army Maj. (ret) Felipe Moon, brigade civil military operations officer, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Infantry Division (Light). From then on, Ahmed and his family were my go to for anything that needed extra attention or had a level of risk.  Until this day, Ahmed is always striving to prove he is capable and deserving.  He has always kept his father and his siblings in the forefront of his achievements and efforts.”

Khalil earned his Bachelor’s degree in 2009 and soon made efforts to leave the country with the help of Moon.

“I wouldn’t be here in the states if it weren’t for him going through the effort to help me when I expressed interest in going to the states,” said Khalil. “He didn’t hesitate to put the paperwork forward and helped me through the process. I decided to settle in upstate New York, in the Watertown area because that’s where Maj. Moon and his family lived and he would be that tie in to help me with transitioning to life in America.”

In January of 2010 Khalil immigrated to the United States and became a lawful resident. Simply living in America wasn’t enough for him though, Khalil wanted to be a citizen and serve his new homeland, he wanted to join the ranks of the “Few and the Proud”. In May 2011, he stepped on the yellow footprints and underwent Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.  Khalil left the Island a Marine and an American citizen three months later.

                “My first idea being here was to pay back to America that saved my life on many occasions over there. I feel it as a duty. There many ways you can contribute to your nation. I wanted to join an organization that would build me up. I knew what the Marines were about, from my time over there. So I chose to be a Marine.”

                Khalil became an administrative clerk for the 11th Marine Regiment in Camp Pendleton, California. But he wasn’t done improving himself. He attained the rank of sergeant meritoriously and submitted an Enlisted Commissioning Package to become an officer right after getting his foreign degree accredited to the equivalent of a U.S. Bachelor’s degree. In the spring of 2014, while serving as a staff secretary administrative chief and protocol noncommissioned officer for Marine Corps Central Command (Forward) he found out he had made selection to officer.

Khalil has spent the past 16 months going through the Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, honing his leadership skills. According to Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Khalil is one of only 58 Iraqi-born who have worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, and one of far fewer to be commissioned.

His parents know the Corps was a good fit for Khalil after witnessing his transformation from civilian to Marine.

“We're mostly proud of the fact that with his superior effort and devotion, Ahmed was able to achieve what he has always dreamed of becoming, a United States Marine Officer and succeeding in all of the challenges with the utmost confidence,” said Abdulwahab K. Ibrahim, Kahlil’s father. “Ahmed's graduation from Marine Recruit Training and then Officer Candidate School filled us with pride and joy that cannot be described with words; we were speechless and overwhelmed with emotions that left us with tears of joy as soon as the national anthem played followed by the Marine Corps Hymn.  As much as overwhelming that day was, we were not surprised because we've been waiting for this day with confidence that stems from the utmost confidence we have in his abilities and motivation.”

Khalil will serve in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, operating in a logistics capacity after graduating from military occupation school later this year. He has spent most of his youth committed to the ideals of hard work and dedication in support of others in need. Khalil’s continued service to the Marines and America is a testament to that.

“I Hope I can inspire other immigrants to come contribute to their community,” added Khalil. “No better way to do that than to join the best fighting force in the world.”

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