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Engineer demolishes language barrier

Lance Cpl. Paul Torres, Regimental Combat Team 5

AL-ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq-Lance Cpl. Migdad H. Mustafa, 21, from Sioux Falls, S.D., who is a combat engineer and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle driver with Jump Squad, Company A, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, speaks with several Iraqi Army engineers in al-Anbar province, Iraq, Sept. 17. Mustafa was born in Sudan and is able to speak fluent Arabic, which has been a valuable asset for his unit during their current deployment to Iraq. Mustafa is often able to gather intelligence from the locals and able to help out his fellow Marines by acting as their interpreter. 
, Lance Cpl. Paul M. Torres, 9/17/2008 3:58 AM

CAMP RIPPER, Iraq — 9/20/2008

It is difficult to work with the Iraqi people when you don’t understand the language. Most Marines use what little Arabic they know for the simple things and for the rest they rely on an interpreter.

However, talking to Iraqis has never been a problem for Lance Cpl. Migdad H. Mustafa.

“I was born in Sudan and lived in Yemen until I came to the United States when I was 14, so Arabic is my first language,” said Mustafa, 21, from Sioux Falls, S.D., who is a combat engineer and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle driver with Jump Squad, Company A, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5. “The Marines only know a little Arabic, like ‘stop or I will shoot,’ and (most) Iraqis only know ‘mister mister,’ so it helps everyone for me to be able to explain things,” said Mustafa.

Mustafa’s ability to listen to what the local people are saying often gives him a better understanding on what is going on.

“I can stand there and listen to what the Iraqis are saying, and because I am a Marine, they assume I don’t understand Arabic, so they are not guarded in what they say,” said Mustafa.

Being bilingual has helped Mustafa gather intelligence that has led to the detainment of several individuals.

“There was one time I overheard an Iraqi Army sergeant talking to his lieutenant in Arabic about a truck they had spotted,” said Mustafa. “It was one they had seen earlier and tried to apprehend, but it got away. The sergeant thought it was the same truck, but the lieutenant didn’t think so and didn’t want to waste the manpower. I went and told my platoon sergeant about it and we went to go check it out. It turned out that we were able to detain both the passenger and the driver. One was a known insurgent and the other was his brother who was also wanted for other reasons.”

Though the Marines can often utilize civilian translators to communicate with the locals, much can be lost in the translation, such as technical information the translator doesn’t understand.rnslate Arabic, Mustafa is a combat engineer which means he has helped build many of the structur

“We do a lot of site surveys, and he is a huge help when we need to find out from the local people if there is anything in particular we need to know about the area,” said Gunnery Sgt. Marco E. Flores, 33, from Lincoln Shire Ill., who is the company gunnery sergeant for 3rd CEB. “(Mustafa) understands military and engineering lingo and is able to translate what we need accurately to any Arabic speakers we are working with so they understand exactly what we need them to do.”

In addition to being able to translate Arabic, Mustafa is a combat engineer, which means he is often called upon to fill several roles.

“Mustafa is primarily a combat engineer. He is also an MRAP operator, and his platoon provides immediate engineering support, whether it is vehicle recovery, escort missions or site reconnaissance,” said Flores.

“I can interpret, but I am also a Marine lance corporal, which means I have other tasks I have to do,” said Mustafa. “I like how people are always surprised when I begin to talk in Arabic and they say, ‘you speak Arabic?’ I always say to them, ‘does it sound like I am speaking French?’”

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