Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Arab Muslim Soldier Quietly Does His Job; the Naturalized U.S. Citizen Puts His Language Skills to Use

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Arab Muslim Soldier Quietly Does His Job; the Naturalized U.S. Citizen Puts His Language Skills to Use

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Youssef is a most unusual American soldier.

Sure, he's patriotic, served a combat tour in Iraq and wears his uniform and black beret smartly.

But the 31-year-old Army specialist was born in Muslim northern Africa and claims Arabic as his first language. His occupation as an Army interpreter is shrouded in so much secrecy that his full name, place of residence and national origin cannot be published. Photographs showing his identity are forbidden.

All that can really be said about Youssef is that he's a naturalized U.S. citizen, is fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and is stationed somewhere on the First Coast as an Army recruiter.

The Times-Union interviewed Youssef about his life as an Arabic interpreter for the Army.

Why is there so much secrecy surrounding you and other Army interpreters of Arab origin?

It's important because most of our families are back home [in the Arab world]. My family is there, so I don't feel safe my name being released where it will be in the hands of bad people and could be a threat to my family.

Is there a concern terrorists could find you here in Florida?

Mostly I am concerned for my family, but I still keep a low profile here, too.

When and why did you join the Army?

I joined the Army in December 2004. ... After that [Sept. 11, 2001] I started thinking about what I can do to help. ... I met a retired Air Force officer [who] actually talked to me about how the military was looking for Arabic speakers and had a program of training ... for native speakers. I started doing some research about it and I wanted to help. ... The main idea was to show a different image of an Arab Muslim immigrant in this country. I always had issues about all the negative [images] of Muslims.

What kind of training did you get to become a military interpreter?

I went through the normal steps to become a U.S. soldier. I went to basic training, and then to advanced training. ... It [advanced training] was about handling a lot of translations of documents.

Do you carry a weapon in the field, like other soldiers? …

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