True Growth - The Natural Choice in Leader Development
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Hope in America

Phil Johndrow

March 2014

When I was in Baghdad, Iraq and a Brigade Command Sergeant Major, I met two Iraqi translators, Afrah and Lina AL Asadi. I originally knew their names as WHY and BECAUSE. Whenever I saw these two young women, they were always positive and upbeat and were committed to making a positive difference in their country. As I learned more about them, I was touched by how much they loved their country and the depth of their commitment to make it a safer place to live. I knew some men who would not take the chances they took because of the danger involved. Here you had two women who willingly took on that kind of danger every day.

Because of the danger to themselves and their families, they took different routes to and from our post so they would not be followed and harmed. They told me how they had to tell everyone that they worked for another company and not the U.S. Army.

Several other translators who worked with us were killed; some in attacks on our convoys and others were executed. Each of these workers was critical, as they provided us with the ability to communicate daily with the Iraqi people and dignitaries. They were force multipliers and we could not conduct our mission without them.

When I came back to Baghdad as the Division Command Sergeant Major, I went on a routine combat patrol to their camp and noticed that the girls were not there. My heart dropped when I was informed that they had been attacked for the second time. During the attack, one broke her ankle and the other had some burns on her back, but the good news is that both were going to survive.

At the time, there was a program that allowed us to send selected Iraqis who had served with us, and whose lives were in danger, back to the United States.

These women had completed the paperwork but it was stalled at the Brigade headquarters and needed to get to Division headquarters to be approved by a General Officer. I went to brigade and picked up the paperwork and personally took it to one of our Generals. He asked me if I trusted them. My response, “with my life!” He never asked another question, as he could see in my eyes the determination that I was never going to let anyone hurt these young ladies again. I was so happy that I was able to get them out of Iraq and that they could lead safe and productive lives in the United States. The big surprise was when I was told that I was their sponsor and was personally responsible for their care for the first year in the United States. This included a place to live, food, clothing, etc. I was still in Iraq and communicated to my mother that she was going to have “some guests for dinner” and she took the women in.

Think about the adjustment that these young women had to make - from 120 degrees in Iraq to being relocated to my home state of Montana where it can be as cold as 10 degrees below zero with snow, which they had never seen. They not only accepted, but they thrived amidst the many adjustments they had to make to assimilate into the American lifestyle; such changes were nothing compared to worrying about their lives in Iraq.

During a conversation with a Vietnam veteran who was still deeply troubled for not doing something for the brave Vietnamese who risked their lives for him and his fellow soldiers, he promised that he would help Afrah and Lina get jobs and look after their well-being. And that he did.

The girls have lived in Montana for the past 6 years and have adjusted well to their new home. The best news is they passed the naturalization test and are now proud citizens of the United States of America. I never felt more proud when I joined them in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as they waved their American Flags during the ceremony. Words cannot express how blessed I felt to be part of such a happy ending.

I will never forget the moment they thanked me for saving their lives and I then thanked them for saving mine.

True Growth Takeaway: People can live 40 days without food, 4 days without water, but only 4 seconds without hope. There’s no greater feeling than keeping hope alive in others.

Journaling Reflection: What can you do today to give hope to one who is hurting? 

About the author: Philip Johndrow served more than 33 years in the United States Army. He has held every noncommissioned officer leadership position culminating with his last three assignments as Command Sergeant Major of the 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division Baghdad and the Combined Arms Center. Phil served 42 months in Iraq as a Squadron, Brigade and Division Command Sergeants Major. Since his retirement, Phil has been the National Director for Military Relations at Trident University Internal. Phil also occasionally serves as a Senior Mentor for the Pre-Command and Command Sergeants Major Development Program.
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