By Raouf Chouery

In 1967, I left Egypt as the simmering conflict between Israel and Egypt began to heat up. My father, who did not want me to be drafted by the Egyptian Army, encouraged me to leave the country right after the Six-Day War. This meant, at 18, that I would part from my family, home and the only way of life I’d ever known.

I traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, and with the help of the United States Catholic Conference Organization at the U.S. Embassy, I was granted refugee status. Alone, I entered the United States in 1968 only knowing how to speak French and Arabic. Arriving in Seattle, I learned quickly as Eastern and Western cultures mashed into an experience uniquely American.

Four years later, as a permanent resident with a green card, I was drafted into the Army and served as a pressman for two years in the States as the Vietnam War ended.

Three short years later, on April 4, 1975, I eagerly raised my right hand and gave my oath of allegiance, proudly becoming an American citizen. I was placed in the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve until 1978. In 1986, I was working at the United States Government Printing Office. I was looking to earn some extra income and signed up with the Washington Army National Guard.

With my experience as a soldier and guardsman, I initially thought I would drive the truck that I had fallen in love with years before—the deuce and a half—but my superiors had other ideas. They encouraged me to put my language skills to work and serve as a charter member in a newly formed 341st Military Intelligence Battalion (Linguist).

The career path that I had chosen—intelligence and linguistics—was not an easy course to follow for either my family or myself. Hardship became usual, as I found myself being activated and deployed more and more frequently. During my 24 years in the Guard, I served deployments around the world, including stops in Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Egypt.

During the Gulf War, responsibilities were shifted and added to my wife and three children, Christine, Joseph and Twyla. Among other things, my wife volunteered her time to be the point of contact as a family support coordinator for the battalion while keeping a full-time job and raising our children.

Raouf Chouery talks with On Patrol at his Maryland home in October 2014. | Photo credit USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley

I’m proud to say that we’re a military family. My late father-in-law William Blaurock inspired my sense of duty. He served his country in the Navy during the Korean War and continued to support our troops as an American Legion Commander and longtime USO volunteer at Seattle’s SeaTac Airport. He was a true patriot and influenced my patriotism greatly.

My son served in the Army and deployed to Iraq in 2003 and my daughter, Twyla, is a military spouse. She married Andrew Williams, an Army combat veteran who also served in Iraq. He survived two separate IED explosions while on patrol. He is now a disabled veteran and lives with my daughter in California.

At 60, I was required to retire from the Army as a sergeant first class, but I was granted a one-year waiver. I thought that would be the end of the line for me. But, at 62, I was offered a critical position in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor. I was uncomfortable with the idea of being retired, so having to pack my duffle bag once again gave me a sigh of relief.

I had a positive experience working in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and enjoyed the idea of not falling under the traditional military command structure. I didn’t have to say, “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am” all the time and I was able to volunteer at the USO without having to ask permission.

I worked with troops and I lived a similar lifestyle, but when my day was over, I could go back to my tent and relax. They didn’t have the same luxury. I have some gray hair on my head and those young service members were disciplined and respectful. They saw that I understood the local culture and spoke the language, so they thought I was someone they could learn from. They weren’t afraid to come to me with questions.

Along with my job working for NATO, I felt that volunteering at the USO was very important. It was a home away from home, and I understood the pain the young, cold troops endured, as they patiently waited for the USO’s doors to open. The staff tried to provide the emotional support that was needed for each service member who entered the center.

The people who used the USO in Kandahar were from all walks of life and different cultures. The center served locals and other NATO personnel who didn’t always speak English and I found it a unique gathering place that welcomed diversity. Watching the groups, I realized it was like my own experience many years ago when I found my new home in America.