CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marines in the western reaches of Iraq are getting a helping hand from an all-volunteer force of a different stripe.
Hany I. Farag is one of nearly 1,200 Arabic-speaking linguists who answered the country's call for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He's not a Marine and not even a soldier, despite the tri-color desert uniform he wears. He's a naturalized citizen as proud of the U.S. flag sewn on his uniform as any servicemember.
Today, he's on duty as an interpreter for Col. Craig A. Tucker, commanding officer for Regimental Combat Team 7.
Farag's service as an interpreter started when he saw an Army advertisement seeking Arabic speakers in his Bayonne, N.J. home.
"I called and took a test over the phone," Farag explained. "Five days later I received a package and filled it out. Five days after that I received a call saying they wanted me to come down to Virginia to take more tests."
Farag headed to Fairfax, Va., to take a final test in person in order to become a linguist for the Army.
"They asked me about everything in my life over the past 10 years," Farag said. "Well, I passed everything and was hired on the spot."
Farag's journey began in Egypt where he grew up and earned a bachelor's degree in literature before heading to the United States more than 20 years ago. He said pursuing religious freedoms and the ability to realize personal dreams were some of the reasons he left the Middle East.
"This country gave me a lot," Farag said. "I gained the ability to work, go to school and achieve my goals. It opened a door for me and gave me all the opportunities in the world."
He gained citizenship in the early 1990's and married. Farag, an assistant administrator for the engineering department of sewer management in Jersey City, N.J., also came within 10 credits of earning his bachelor's degree in business before becoming a linguist for the Army.
He began his new career with the Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment. He quickly became the "go to guy" as described by Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Terry L. Ricer, the battalion's intelligence officer.
"He earned the praise of everyone around him, becoming a valuable asset to almost every effort made to ensure the battalion's success," Ricer explained.
According to a letter of recommendation written by Army Lt. Col. David C. Hill, Farag became a master at building positive personal relationships. He sought advice, input and assistance of key leaders and mid-level managers, earning him the trust of more than 500 soldiers within the battalion.
Farag became the battalion's head linguist among 12 others. He was also trusted as the battalion's lead negotiator when dealing with any Arabic-speaking person and saved the unit nearly $6 million by negotiating with Iraqi construction workers without compromising timelines.
Farag even volunteered to join combat patrols when other linguists shied away. That reputation garnered Farag a request to stay on and serve with Marines.
Still, Farag thinks there is more he can do for his country.
"I think I'll stay out here another year, maybe longer," Farag said. "I think they'll need guys like me for a while."
He gave up the same comforts of life as the Marines. He's got a family at home, whom he misses.
"My wife didn't want me to go," Farag said. "But then I guess everyone's loved ones at home didn't want them to come here. I had to do it, for the sake of the country. It was my time to payback.
"Linguists, I think, are a valuable asset to the country," Farag added. "They're the country's voice to the local population and transcribe valuable information. But I think we all do it for the same reason... to give back."