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John F. Berry [[email protected]] has sent you an article from pe.com.

Story: Translator speaking language of patriotism

Im John Berry, a reporter with the Press-Enterprise in San Bernardino, Calif. I had promised to send you a copy of the story when it was published -- and here it is! Sorry I didnt send it sooner...Ive been dealing with many breaking stories, including the ones in Southern California about all the wicked weather weve been having. Today is my day to play catch up. Hope you enjoy the story. -- John F. Berry



Translator speaking language of patriotism

RIALTO: Injured while serving in Baghdad, the Lebanon native supports U.S. forces in Iraq.

12:38 AM PST on Monday, January 3, 2005

RIALTO - George Michael Georgie is back home in Rialto, a few months after a suicide bomber in a Baghdad café blew him off his feet.

"He was just sitting and mumbling," said Georgie, cotton stuffed into his right ear. "A few seconds later, everything went black."

Georgie, 44, said he would risk the blown eardrums and shrapnel in his thighs and nose again to serve his adopted homeland.

"This country has opened a door for me," said Georgie, a native of Lebanon. "I wanted to give back."

Georgie is among the estimated 15,000 Arab-Americans working with U.S. forces in Iraq, said Jamal Baadani, founder of the Ontario-based Association of Patriotic Arab-Americans in the Military. Baadani did not have statistics on the casualties the group has suffered.

"We have a duty," said Baadani, an Arab-American and U.S. Marine reservist who spent two years on active duty. "If we're going to live in America, then we have to contribute."

Georgie spent 18 months in Iraq as an interpreter with the U.S. military before a pair of suicide bombers killed about half a dozen people inside the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad on Oct. 14.

One bomber detonated his pack in an outdoor market and the other triggered his explosive in the "Green Zone Café," a tent Georgie was entering at lunchtime.

Both attacks reputedly were led by Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to news reports.

Georgie said he was just 10 feet from the café bomber. He said he realized hours later that he had been wounded and was in shock.

"I was all blood, and not just my blood," said Georgie as he sat on his living room couch. "It was the blood of the guys I was helping."

Georgie said he helped extinguish flames that burned a woman beyond recognition. He estimated that 35 people were inside the café. Medical help came within minutes, he said.

Georgie said he called home though he could not hear his family because of his damaged ears.

"I didn't know what he was talking about," said his wife, Rose Georgie, 51. "It was 4 a.m., and I was asleep."

Rose Georgie said she prayed and watched CNN, where she eventually learned of the suicide attacks. She tried to call her husband back.

"Somebody else answered his cell phone," she said. "That never happened before."

Georgie was evacuated and reached Los Angeles on Oct. 24. He had ear surgery in mid-November at Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he also is undergoing physical therapy for injuries to his back, legs and left wrist. He said he will have to wear a hearing aid in his left ear and is unsure whether he will regain hearing in his right ear.

Georgie immigrated to the United States in 1990 to flee Syrian persecution, he said. He worked a variety of jobs in the Inland area and became a naturalized citizen in 1994.

The front yard of his home is decorated with two dozen American flags and banners.

Georgie tried to help the American military after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. All the military branches declined him because of his age.

But in 2003, with the military desperately needing Arabic-speaking translators in the Middle East, Georgie was hired by a defense contractor he declined to name. He was outfitted in camouflage military gear at Fort Benning, Ga., that May.

Georgie was deployed to Iraq in June 2003, when he started working as a translator for a U.S. Army Reserve unit from Texas. The unit renovated sewers, schools and hospitals. He said his job included teaching community councils about democracy.

Georgie spent much of the next 18 months in the country, and had encounters with firefights, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. He dealt with Iraqis who held mixed views about him.

"They didn't like an Arab-American working with American forces," he said. "Some of them did welcome the idea and were thrilled a native could talk with them."

Georgie's family members boast about him.

"I'm proud of him for going to Iraq for our freedom," said Gabriella, 9, a fourth-grader at Shepherd's Flock Christian Academy, based in Running Springs. "Everybody should be proud of their dads who are in Iraq."

His son, Miguel, 8, attends the same school. He is a self-described "prayer warrior."

"Sometimes we didn't hear from him for three weeks," Miguel said. "We would get freaked out."

Rose Georgie said she might sabotage his return to Iraq.

"I'm going to put his visa and passport in a shredder," she said.

Reach John F. Berry at (909) 806-3058 or [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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