By Army Pvt. Jared Gehmann
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 1, 2009 - It's not difficult to find a servicemember who can speak two or possibly three languages, but it's nearly impossible to find one who is fluent in five. For Moroccan-born Army Spc. Ikram Mansori, who now calls San Francisco home, being fluent in Arabic, French, Spanish, Moroccan and English has served her well during her 12-month deployment to Iraq.
When Mansori enlisted in the Army in 2007, she committed herself to be a truck driver. But because of her language skills, her unit's senior leaders felt she would be a valued asset serving as a linguist. Mansori currently serves with the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
While growing up in the town of Youssoufia, Morocco, Mansori thrived as a student, learning several languages while living with her father. During her junior year in high school, she put a lot of thought into her future and what colleges would best suit her. Feeling that the United States offered her the best opportunity, Mansori said, she moved in with her mother in San Francisco in the summer of 2004. She did not speak English very well at the time, and she pushed herself to learn the language and fulfill her goal of attending an American university.
"At that time, I knew very little English, but I wanted to finish high school in the U.S. in order to go to a four-year university where I could get a degree," she said. "After a year of being in the U.S., I could speak English well."
Mansori went on to graduate from high school and attended college at the University of California, Davis, for her freshman year. To support herself, Mansori said, she worked as a waitress at an Italian restaurant. While Mansori was working on her degree, her mother introduced her to an Army recruiter, which prompted her to think about military service.
"The recruiter was a friend of my mom's, and they were both encouraging me to join," she said. "I saw it as a great opportunity."
With that encouragement, Mansori decided to take a break from her studies and enlist in the Army as a truck driver. Despite her language skills, becoming a truck driver offered her an immediate incentive.
"I became a truck driver because the job came with such a large sign-on-bonus," she said. "However, I still planned on taking the [Defense Language Proficiency Test] and becoming a qualified linguist."
After finishing her individual training, Mansori obtained her Army linguist certification and attended the Army's airborne school. Jumping out of a plane was something that intrigued her.
"I went airborne because I wanted to serve with the 82nd Airborne Division," she said. "I knew how often the 82nd gets deployed, and I wanted to go to another country and experience new things."
Being deployed here since December, Mansori has been able to see much of the change in the country. Because of her ability to speak Arabic, she's had the chance to communicate with the Iraqi people.
"It's amazing that people on the other side of the world are just like everyone else," she said. "The Iraqi people just want a better place to live and work. I believe the majority of the Iraqi people want us around to help."
Mansori serves in the brigade's command group as a linguist to assist the brigade's command sergeant major.
"When I'm not working in the office or assisting the command team, I'm usually out on patrols and humanitarian missions, helping the paratroopers communicate with the Iraqi people," she said. "I don't have one favorite experience in Iraq, because every time I dismount on a patrol, I know I'm going to have the best experience."
With her deployment coming to an end, Mansori is excited to return home and see her family, especially her 11-year-old brother.
"My little brother is recovering from an incident that happened earlier this year," she said. "I miss him and can't wait to go home and take him snowboarding once he's better."
In the future, Mansori said, she would like to become an Army officer and serve as a language cultural advisor, or go back to school and eventually choose a career. She looks forward to becoming a U.S. citizen later this fall, she added.
(Army Pvt. Jared Gehmann serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)