MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
In the early 2000s, escalating tensions in Iraq caused severe damage to the region. Many Iraqi citizens fled the country’s borders, fearing for their lives under Saddam Hussein’s rule. It’s doubtful too many had hopes of one day becoming an American, and even fewer, an American Airman.
The Middle East has seen significant changes over the last several decades, and now, one Iraqi national has gone further than he ever thought possible. A young Riyadh Aljammaly grew up near Camp Taji, a joint operations base just outside Baghdad. It was here that he became an Arabic linguist for U.S. forces stationed there.
“My job was to break the [language] barrier and help the U.S. to carry on its mission,” said Aljammaly, “and that mission was to train the new Iraqi Army and Air Force there.”
Aljammaly is adept in all seven dialects of Arabic spoken in the Middle East and said he felt a sense of duty that drove him to aid American operations.
“Saddam Hussein was a horrible person who led Iraq into several wars and destroyed the country,” he added. “So this was a way to say thank you to the U.S. for helping us regain our freedom.”
In 2009, the dust had settled and life began to look familiar to those living in the region, but Aljammaly knew his journey was only just beginning. During his time serving as a translator for U.S. and Iraqi troops, Aljammaly had also been studying medicine in hopes of one day becoming a doctor, but all was not well for him, yet. His allegiance to invading forces made him fear for his life.
“I was viewed as a traitor by some groups, and I was being targeted,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends and co-workers who were kidnapped or executed. I knew I needed to move on and try to find a future somewhere else.”
Aljammaly packed his things, said goodbye to his loved ones and headed west to start a new life. In November 2013, his efforts finally bore fruit: He raised his right hand, recited the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and received his citizenship. He’d finally made it to the land of the free, and now, Aljammaly wanted to be one of the brave.
“After immigrating to America, I knew I wanted to serve,” said Aljammaly. “Once I got my citizenship I immediately applied to become an officer in the U.S. Air Force.”
He self-studied and passed the United States medical license examinations and went on to complete his residency training at Yale University.
Aljammaly was direct commissioned as a captain in the Air Force in July 2014, and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School here in May of this year. He currently serves as the medical director and sole psychiatrist of the mental health clinic at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, where he provides care to more than 6,000 special operations Airmen.
“I was born in a war and I grew up in a war,” said Aljammaly. “It was a tough experience, but I made it through. Now, I’m hoping I can help these Airmen through their tough times, too.”