Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 4, 2007 - When Sgt. Jason Stisser, of Troop O, 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, found out he was coming back to Iraq, he quickly brushed up on his Arabic. That preparation has been benefiting his platoon in its current duties. Based out of Forward Operating Base Prosperity in central Baghdad, the unit, attached to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, covers the Karkh district.
In a recent clearing mission dubbed Operation Saber Sweep, the white and blue platoons of 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, along with Iraqi army soldiers, went from apartment building to apartment building gathering census information on area residents.
Recently, many of the residents complained of wrongful eviction notices. "Outlaw" Troop soldiers went around collecting data such as lease agreements or ownership documents to make sure the residents would not be further harassed.
As their Stryker vehicles rolled up to the apartments before sunrise, the group of soldiers, who are deployed from Vilseck, Germany, cleared each of the floors before waking up most residents. "We have to get here early before they head to work," said Staff Sgt. Joaquin Reyna, of Fresno, Calif.
Stisser's ability to converse with the local populace has helped not only to bring the soldiers a cheese-and-bread breakfast during the mission, but also to make their job of obtaining information from the Karkh residents easier. "It's such a big deal when you try to speak their language," the Nashville native said. "Just like at our home station, I don't think we should be walking around Germany without learning how to say, 'Excuse me, please and I'm sorry,' ... just the basic stuff."
Although their platoons have Iraqi interpreters with them, the anomaly of a westerner who speaks Arabic seems to bring about trust. Stisser's interaction with residents, merchants and Iraqi army soldiers makes it easier on the rest of his unit.
"There's a stigma with what we do; they think we think they are terrorists or something," Stisser said. "What I try to tell them (is that) all I need is info."
Stisser started learning conversational Arabic in 2005, when he was deployed to Taji, Iraq, with 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), from Fort Hood, Texas. He learned simple phrases from his interpreters to get children to go buy drinks and snacks from local vendors. Now, as he and his unit live out of Coalition Outpost Ramagon together in Karkh, Stisser spends more time speaking to Iraqi army soldiers. His fellow scouts started calling him "jundee," which means "soldier" in Arabic.
"He's the closest thing we have to an (Iraqi army soldier)," joked Sgt. Kevin Baker, of Tampa, Fla.
Stisser, who refers to himself as a traditionalist, said he honors the Iraqi culture because he considers himself the same. "I tell everybody that all you have to do is look at the Old Testament," he said. "A lot of their customs come from their religion. I respect those who are traditionalist. It's just the little things. They'll bring you in and have chai (tea) with you."
Stisser is studying Arabic through interactive computer software, but learns a lot by carrying index cards with a few vocabulary words. "Right now, my grammar is like: 'Me Tarzan, you Jane,'" he said. "Sometimes, I'll get into a conversation with an (Iraqi soldier) and get in way over my head. So, I'll have to bring an interpreter over.
"I try to use each of these words in a conversation at least one time a day," he said, pointing to the list of phonetically written words. "My goal is, by March, to go with my section and see if we have a need for interpreters for certain missions. Sometimes, I feel like it's not helping out the platoon yet, which is my biggest priority."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Kap Kim is assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Public Affairs.)