FALLUJAH, Iraq --
Over the radio, a Marine’s voice was heard: “Yeah, this dude is crazy. We had Victor ask around and everyone confirmed it, over.”
An Iraqi man had told Marines rumors about insurgent activity in Fallujah. Victor, an interpreter with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, saved the time and effort of pursuing false tips from the bogus source, proving his worth to the Marines.
Victor plays an integrated role in the Marines’ day-to-day job in keeping the city safe and prospering. His skill in translating provides the Marines with the means to overcome the language barrier they face every day. He’s native to the Middle East and offers the Marines the ability to decipher the unfamiliar Arab culture.
Whether they’re patrolling the streets, training the Iraqi security forces or simply purchasing goods in the market, without the help of someone like Victor tasks would be much more complicated.
“Victor” was the name given to him by the Marines since no one could pronounce his Arabic name with any accuracy. He works, lives and endures the long days alongside the “Darkhorse” battalion Marines, who have taken him in as a friend and colleague.
“Victor is awesome,” said Sgt. Ysac M. Perez, a squad leader. “He’s always willing to help us out with anything we need to get done.”
Victor said he came to the job by replying to an advertisement in a newspaper from his hometown in a nearby Middle Eastern country. He said he then passed the required exam and was offered the position of a lower-level interpreter.
As they walked down the streets on a recent patrol, adults and small children alike called out Victor by name, and openly greeted him and the Marines as they passed.
“I feel like I’m doing a great job, and feel like I can help the Iraqi people and American people because I can speak English and I can make it easier for both,” said Victor. “I feel like I am one of (the Marines). They are my friends and they treat me good. They’re nice people until they know someone is not good.”
As they patrolled and stopped to speak with people in the city, Victor investigated how the people of Falllujah feel about the situation the war has brought on them in the past, present and future.
People told Victor about the hard times they have gone through in the city. They explained to him that for a long time, they could not sleep. They could not go outside. Things went missing from the market. Terrorists took their money. They had no power or water and the children quit attending school. Terrorists liked to kill and they killed by sword, not by bullet. They didn’t understand what the terrorists wanted exactly.
“The people feared that (having Coalition Forces in the city) would be bad for them like it was before, especially Fallujah,” said Victor. “The people now understand that the Marines are here to help them, not control them. Nobody believed it would be as good as it is now.”
Victor recalled a story an Iraqi policeman told him about how he feared taking out the trash each day because he would find severed human heads in his trash can.
“The Marines were a gift to them from the sky,” Victor said. “For (Iraqis) it was hard times when the terrorists came. They were controlling them. They were not allowed to smoke, listen to music, eat certain foods or wear (Western) clothes and they were forced to go to the mosques and pray. They were not allowed to do this or that. They were not allowed to do many things. It was very scary for them. (Terrorists) killed a lot of people. When they woke up in the morning, they would find people lying dead in the streets and they did not know why the terrorists were doing what they were doing.”
Throughout the day, Victor is also tasked with translating prayers coming from the loudspeakers atop of mosques.
“Don’t worry about the struggles of today. There is a greater afterlife awaiting you where you can have all that you desire,” was just one of the messages resonating from the speakers through the streets as Victor translated.
“They felt that one day (terrorists) would come again, but now the Marines are here and have worked with them and trained them well,” said Victor.
Victor said he believes the Fallujah Iraqi Police have come along well for being so new.
“They need more training, but there are a lot of them, a good number,” said Victor. “Day by day, they are working and learning to function better on their own, and I think if something were to happen they could control it on their own.”
On a daily basis Victor maintains good working relations between the Marines and IPs, translating for both parties.
“(IPs) are happy, and I think the moment the Marines leave, they will be sad,” said Victor. “They know the Marines are here to support them. They have to learn to do the job alone because the Marines cannot stay here forever, but they feel safe now because the Marines have experience, and if anything happens, they know Marines can control it right away.”
Every day a smile was brought to Victor’s face as people expressed their gratitude to the Marines through him.
“‘Who would believe that Fallujah could be like this?’ the people would say,” said Victor. “You can go down to the market and see how good things are. (Iraqis) are so happy. The Marines have helped them a lot. They’ve made them a peaceful home with security, made them IDs, trained them and gave them jobs.”
Victor pointed out the cement barriers that block the streets as examples of the difficult but necessary adjustments residents have had to make in putting a halt to violence in the city.
“People know that everything is (secure) now and it must be like this,” said Victor. “I think everyone is happy now. No one complains.”