AL ASAD, Iraq -- As statues of Saddam Hussein fell across Iraq, he watched from a television, safe in Glendale, Ariz. Then, he volunteered his safety and freedom to serve with the Marines in Iraq and to help bring freedom and democracy to his homeland.
Gaby Biroutta, an interpreter with 1st Brigade Service Support Group, has been in Iraq for more than seven months, bridging the crucial communication gap between Marines and the citizens of Iraq.
Biroutta, an Assyrian Christian whose family fled Iraq while Saddam’s regime was in power, speaks English, Arabic, Assyrian, Armenic, Kurdish and German.
While in Iraq, he spent four months escorting convoys daily. He has gone with Marines on raids against insurgents, visited villages, helped Marines give aid to local citizens and most recently worked with Marines during Operation Liberty Express, safely moving Iraqi poll workers to cities in the Al Anbar province for the Iraqi Constitution referendum.
“I love what I’m doing right now,” said Biroutta. “The Iraqi people are trying their best to communicate and work with us. They want to build a better future for themselves and their families. It’s very important I am here, and that I help make it easier for the Iraqis to understand we are here to help them.”
Biroutta said many of the Iraqis didn’t know how to live like a independent person while facing the constant pressure and fear of Saddam’s regime. While dealing with the Iraqis, he said he often finds it hard to believe it’s 2005. But, he emphasized he is very proud to see them moving forward as a society and taking charge of their own lives.
“When Iraqis see Soldiers talking to them, some still get scared and think of the old regime,” said Biroutta. “Truthfully, many are very happy to see me, someone who understands them and can help them get food and water.”
Although Biroutta has already been in Iraq for seven months, he said as long as he is with Marines he may stay up to three years.
“I came here free,” said Biroutta. “I volunteered, and I’m very proud and happy to be here.”
Biroutta said his wife was also an active force in convincing him to join the team, and Marines conducting Operation Liberty Express said Biroutta’s presence was greatly appreciated.
“We couldn’t have done it without him,” said Staff Sgt. William Estes, an avionics chief with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2, who served as both the manifest and security staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Operation Liberty Express and Miami native. “Every time he has been worried about different Iraqis, something has turned up wrong with them.”
Biroutta’s role as an interpreter and general personality has made him very popular among all the Marines who count on him constantly to help break down the communication barrier.
“He deals with Iraqis who get angry and he calms down the whole situation,” said Cpl. Jeffrey Dean, an aircraft rescue and firefighter with Marine Wing Support Squadron 272, who worked security during Operation Liberty Express. “For example, the Iraqis get angry and don’t understand why they can’t smoke. He explains to them that they have burnt down tents smoking and that you need to be held accountable for what you do.”
Dean said Biroutta is always in good spirits and has been able to verbally solve what the Marines might have had to solve physically.
“He serves a vital role as a middleman,” said Dean, a native of Richmond, Va. “He makes the Iraqis feel more comfortable to be with Marines, and Marines more comfortable with them.”
Biroutta said he is simply glad everything in his native country is moving forward, and proud that he can play his part.
“This year, there were a lot more people voting and it was more organized,” said Biroutta. “Everything is moving smoothly, and it has been a good experience working with Marines. People are happy the troops are here.”
Although Biroutta said he came to Iraq to promote democracy and freedom, he added the main reason he is here is to help U.S. service members.
“Young Soldiers are getting injured and killed for the Iraqi people,” said Biroutta. “I miss my family, I’m a little homesick, but the time I’m sacrificing to be here is very important for the good of Iraq.”