Because the core of my job is controlling access to the camp, I have met thousands of Iraqis over the past 9 months. Many I speak to for a moment, just to determine what their business is and to make a quick decision about one time access, most for about 10 minutes to interview them prior to granting them longer term access. The Iraqis I know best are the interpreters, my own and those who work for other units here on the camp. They are wonderful people, with a diversity of backgrounds, education, personalities. What they have in common is the ability to pass an English proficiency test and the guts to work side by side with U.S Troops, inside and outside the wire. As I have mentioned before, the job is incredibly dangerous.
When I first arrived here, and began learning the ropes at the gate, the first Iraqis I came to know were our gate interpreters. Interpreters are mostly known by nicknames, for their own protection and for ease of pronunciation by Americans. We have a really hard time getting our tongues around Arabic names. They have nicknames like Doc, Navigator, Bulldog, Cowboy, and Caesar. Some speak what I call “Hollywood English”, which they clearly learned watching American movies and TV, filled with slang and expressions they may or may not fully understand. These interpreters are always entertaining, not always for the reasons they think they are, and are very easy to get along with. New interpreters often speak very limited, literal English with little understanding of the subtleties of the language. Once they have spent some time around Americans, they grow into effective and trusted interpreters. Some, like Neo, speak fluent and proper English, sometimes better than the Soldiers they are interpreting for.
I met Neo the same day I met Fox and Junior, “my” interpreters. Neo, before he transferred to another job, worked the gate with about 12 other interpreters, and we considered him one of the best; intelligent, eloquent, and principled. He owned a jewelry business in Baghdad before the war and my predecessors introduced us quickly, advising me to talk to Neo before buying any jewelry, because he had the best quality at the most reasonable prices. After about a month, Neo left the gate to work at the base contracting office. This was the perfect match for him. His business experience and knowledge of the Baghdad economy allowed the contracting office to drive the hardest bargains and find the best suppliers. It also allowed him to get a little less face time in front of the other Iraqi workers, which he hoped would reduce the risk associated with working here, and the constant threats he received. Neo moved his family four times since I arrived here to protect them from those threats.
I found out this afternoon that two days ago, Neo was driving to work when his car was stopped by terrorists. They pulled him from his car and shot him in the back of the head. They left his body lying in the ditch alongside the road. Neo’s real name was Nabeel. Nabeel lived his life with more courage and honor than the cowards who murdered him will know in a thousand lifetimes.
Nabeel stayed here in spite of the danger because he believed that he was building a peaceful and free Iraq. I will miss you, my friend. May God grant you the peace you sought.