By Army Sgt. Anthony Hewitt
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — In Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad during the 1980s, a family of six brothers and one sister – all very close in age – played in the streets and parks of their hometown, enjoying the simple things in life they had at the time.
Army Sgt. Ali Alsaeedy, an Iraq native and a paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, described his journey from being a young college student in Baghdad to becoming a paratrooper in America’s Guard of Honor.
“I was in my second year of college when everything happened – the troops arrived,” he said. “It was a year later when it seemed things began to settle down. We all were trying to educate ourselves on the matter, because we believed – and still do – that the U.S. forces and allies were there to transform the country and help. We felt there was not going to be any more tyranny system or sects of families taking over the country, doing whatever they felt they wanted … so we believed in the change and welcomed it.”
Trouble Finding Work
After graduating from the University of Baghdad with biochemical engineering degree, Alsaeedy needed to find work, preferably in the engineering field. But it was extremely hard to come by, he said, due to the nature of the country and the fact that most employers hired only within their sects.
“I did not know exactly what to do or what I wanted to do, but I did know that I wanted to work for and with the service members,” he said. “It was not just about money or security. It was about being a part of something important to me.”
Unable to break into the U.S. contractor market, Alsaeedy’s education and skill set eventually gravitated employers to him within the private sector. In 2005, he found stability in the information technology field as a networking specialist for satellite communications.
“Then one day a man came into the shop and it changed my life forever,” he said. “He inquired about an internet network to be installed on a military base in Baghdad. I took the job. After the work was complete, they were very satisfied and needed more, so they hired me full-time. My English was very fluent, and I became a translator for them, too.”
While the years passed, Alsaeedy’s experiences and relationships grew through the ranks, and by 2007, he was a popular name among higher-ranking officials with the U.S. Air Force and the Marines in Qaim, Iraq.
Integrated Into Brotherhood
“I saw in the soldiers what very few of us [natives] see,” Alsaeedy said. “They were trustful, pleasant and respectful; they integrated me into their brotherhood.”
Insurgency propaganda said the Americans were in Iraq to destroy everything, Alsaeedy said. “But they were not,” he added. “They were building. They built infrastructure for the population and barracks for the Iraqi army. They supplied resources increasing our livelihood [and] creating jobs for husbands and fathers.”
At the end of 2007, Alsaeedy received some big news. Then-President George W. Bush allowed vetted contractors who had worked for the U.S. government for at least five years to be granted special immigrant visas for them and their families. The visa allowed them to live and work in the United States.
In 2010, Alsaeedy met his five-year requirement to qualify for the special visa for him and his family to move to the United States.
Settling in Virginia
He settled in Norfolk, Virginia, where a new country and culture surrounded him. What he once knew as a world of war was now a life of peace and the pursuit of happiness, he said.
Alsaeedy said he felt grateful to the United States for the opportunities he’d received.
However, Alsaeedy said he “wanted to give them more.”
He enlisted into the U.S. Army in August 2013 as a combat engineer. Shortly thereafter, he attended basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Alsaeedy demonstrated his potential and quick-learning abilities, as well as outstanding physical fitness. He was afforded the opportunity to attend Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, upon graduation.
“I found out that I was going to be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division,” he said. “I knew it was an honor and a prestigious unit. I remember seeing the ‘Double-A’ patch in Iraq. And to realize that I am now one of those paratroopers along with my family – I was beyond excited and humbled. However, it truly did not hit me until I came to Fort Bragg and walked through the division’s museum. That’s when I realized I was a part of something special.”
Returning to Iraq
Alsaeedy’s heart harbored a deep secret: there was something missing.
“My real dream was to return to Iraq,” he said. “I wanted to be an asset to the unit. I had the language, the background and culture. I knew if I ever went back, I would put myself out there to be as valuable as I could for the 307th.”
In early 2015, the 3rd BCT deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. At the time, it was the newest campaign in the fight against ISIS. There, paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division provided advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces.
In a twist of fate, Alsaeedy’s unit operated in the neighborhood where he was raised. His dream finally came true.
“It wasn’t easy at first,” Alsaeedy said while looking up with teary eyes. “But it was my leadership. They understood my situation. They supported me. It made my job and task much easier.”
Alsaeedy’s background and capabilities soon became an asset for his battalion commander all the way up to division command sergeant major and higher-ranking officials in tactical operations centers around the area of operations.
With his hard work and commitment to his leadership and the unit’s mission, Alsaeedy received the first battlefield promotion for a noncommissioned officer during the OIR campaign. He was pinned with the rank of sergeant during the fall of 2015 upon the unit’s redeployment to Fort Bragg.
“I am just so grateful. I cannot put into words how I feel, landing the opportunity during the mid-2000s to becoming a citizen, a soldier deployed to my hometown and a Ranger,” he continued. “My wife and child love the installation, the people, and my daughter is receiving a great education from the schools on Fort Bragg. The Army adopted me, and I am forever in debt to the most professional and perfect organization: the 82nd Airborne [Division].”
–This story originally appeared on defense.gov.
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