Service in Iraq changes a student’s perspective

Daily Sundial

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Just a few weeks after the war in Iraq began, Omar Masry, senior finance major, was headed there with a special operations battalion.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Masry said.

He just knew his destination: Baghdad.

Masry, now 25 years old, set goals for his service in Iraq prior to his deployment.

“I volunteered to go earlier because I wanted to get in on the first wave,” Masry said. “I knew at the beginning (…) things would be so chaotic that it would give someone like me, someone young, an opportunity (to) kind of inject my ideas at a time where they could’ve been influential.”

His uniform is typical of any U.S. soldier: dirty, light-brown combat boots and dark green and brown customized Army fatigues. Masry is representative of a typical U.S. soldier.

But as an Arab-American, he said he had an experience different from most of the other soldiers deployed.

Since he is an Arab-American and speaks Arabic, Masry said he served as an or “ombudsman,” or middle-man, by communicating to Iraqis the intentions he believed America had for Iraq.

“The way we found out who was attacking us wasn’t through building (a) satellite,” Masry said. “It was through building relationships in the community, and the average Iraqi coming up to us and telling us who’s doing what.”

“I’d see the experience when I was there through so many filters,” Masry said. “As an American and as an Arab-American.”

Masry was at the beginning stage of the Iraq war, and everything started at ground zero, he said.

“In the first couple of months, what we saw was a lot of fruition and a lot of things getting fixed up quick,” Masry said.

Thousands of miles away, his mom, Ferial Masry, was in the United States protesting against the war.

“I didn’t agree with the war, and my son was there,” Ferial said.

She said she was supporting her son, not the war.

Soldiers who go to war have no choice, but she blames it on the politicians who started the war, Ferial said.

“A soldier is a soldier,” Ferial said. “It doesn’t matter where he is.”

She was scared, but never had a horrible gut-wrenching feeling Omar wouldn’t come home, Ferial said.

“In a way I was sad he (was) going,” Ferial said. “In another way (…) I thought maybe he could do something good there.”

Omar felt good that he helped out with reconstruction in Iraq, because he said he was contributing to the lives of Iraqis.

He said understanding the Iraqis is one of the main keys to a better Iraq.

“I used to tell them straight up, ‘I don’t care whether you hate or love Iraqis, I don’t care whether you hate or love Arabs, I don’t care if you hate or love Muslims,'” Omar said. “You need to understand how they see things so that it empowers you, so that you can understand their situation, so that you can get better intelligence on what’s going on.”

Every one of us is an ambassador for America, he said.

“I think when we tend to forget about that, we devalue ourselves and we lose respect in the world,” Omar said.

Now, Omar said he believes too many things have been bureaucratized since the first three months.

“It became very haphazard,” Omar said. “When (…) the civilians and contractors started running things, and when the insurgency kicked off a little harder, things kind of dissipated.”

Omar is back home now.

However, the American occupation in Iraq is expected to continue.

“I envision them to be there for a number of years, because they have a along time ahead of themselves to reconstitute (Iraq),” said political science professor Mehran Kamrava, an expert on the Middle East.

When the United States will exit the country depends on when the Iraqi government is considered legitimate, Kamrava said.

Because there is an overt American presence in Iraq, Kamrava said he could only see increased levels of tension in the Middle East and resentment of Americans.

“It stands to reason that no one likes to be occupied,” Kamrava said.

Everyone wants his or her country to have sovereignty, he said.

Omar has a couple more months on tour, but he said he doesn’t think he’ll be back to Iraq.

One thing is for sure: He feels he has changed.

After buying a new car to travel cross-country, Omar was affected mentally.

“I didn’t even realize it at first, but I was changing lanes under the overpasses, because we had become reflexive about doing that,” Omar said. “We wanted to make sure nobody would drop a grenade on us.”

Omar’s mother said she believes her son came back wiser.

“He had much more knowledge,” said Ranj Zuhdi, one of Omar’s close friends. “He’s energetic (and) he has a lot of ideas.”

Zuhdi, a senior computer engineering major, said he thinks Omar and his soldiers made a huge difference in Iraq.

“If nothing else, Iraq teaches you that life is sure as hell not black and white,” Omar said. “That’s the one glaring lesson you get from it.”