A New Home for One of the Brave

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Matthew Markivee
  • Air University Public Affairs

In the early 2000s, escalating tensions in Iraq caused severe damage to the region. Many Iraqi citizens fled the country’s borders, fearing for their lives under Saddam Hussein’s rule. It’s doubtful too many had hopes of one day becoming an American, and even fewer, an American Airman.

The Middle East has seen significant changes over the last several decades, and now, one Iraqi national has gone further than he ever thought possible. Riyadh Aljammaly grew up near Camp Taji, a joint operating base just outside Baghdad. It was here that he became an Arabic linguist for U.S. forces stationed there.

“My job was to break the language barrier and help the U.S. to carry on its mission.” Aljammaly said, “That mission was to train the new Iraqi Army and Air Force there.”

Aljammaly is adept in all seven dialects of Arabic spoken throughout the region and said he felt a sense of duty that drove him to aid American operations.

“Saddam Hussein was a horrible person who led Iraq into several wars and destroyed the country,” he added. “So this was a way to say thank you to the U.S. for helping us regain our freedom.”

In 2009, the dust had settled and life began to look familiar to those living in the region, but Aljammaly knew his journey was only just beginning. During his time serving as a translator for U.S. and Iraqi troops, Aljammaly had simultaneously been studying medicine to one day become a doctor, but all was not well for him, yet.

“My allegiance to invading forces had me pegged a traitor by some groups, and I was being targeted,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends and co-workers who were kidnapped or executed. I knew I needed to move on and try to find a future somewhere else.”

Embracing his loved ones for the last time, Aljammaly packed his things and voyaged west in search of his destiny. In November 2013, his efforts proved worthwhile: He raised his right hand, took a deep breath, and recited the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. He’d finally made it to the land of the free, and now, Aljammaly wanted to be one of the brave.

“After immigrating to America, I knew I wanted to serve,” Aljammaly said. “Once I got my citizenship I immediately applied to become an officer in the U.S. Air Force.”

He self-studied and passed the United States medical license examinations and went on to complete his residency training at Yale University.

Aljammaly was direct commissioned as a captain in the Air Force in July 2014, and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School in May, 2019. He currently serves as the medical director and sole psychiatrist of the mental health clinic at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, where he provides care to more than 6,000 special operations Airmen.

“I was born in a war and I grew up in a war,” said Aljammaly. “It was a tough experience, but I made it through. Now, I’m hoping I can help these Airmen through their toughest times, too.”