Resiliency: One Airman’s journey from Iraq to the Guard

Senior Airman Mohammed Alzubaidi, an electrical systems specialist with the 118th Civil Engineer Squadron, poses with the flags of the United States and his unit on Sept. 27, 2017 at Berry Field Air National Guard Base in Nashville, Tennessee.

Senior Airman Mohammed Alzubaidi, an electrical systems specialist with the 118th Civil Engineer Squadron, poses with the flags of the United States and his unit on Sept. 27, 2017 at Berry Field Air National Guard Base in Nashville, Tennessee. Alzubaidi worked for eight years as a linguist for American forces in Iraq before moving to the U.S. and enlisting in the Tennessee Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Anthony Agosti)

Nashville, Tenn. --

    This is part one of a three-part series covering Senior Airman Mohammed Alzubaidi’s journey, showing his resiliency, courage, and, dedication to the core value of Service Before Self over his adult life.

    Every person in the world has unique elements and stories about their personal life journey, but few people’s stories share the unique resiliency of Senior Airmen Mohammed Alzubaidi’s life journey.

     The journey of Alzubaidi, an electrical systems specialist in the 118th Civil Engineer Squadron of the Tennessee Air National Guard, begins in an unlikely position; on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq selling sodas from his bicycle during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

      “In 2003 there was no jobs. The government just deactivate all the jobs, they deactivated the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Defense, of the Interior,” said Alzubaidi. “But you still have bills to pay; you feel like you are going nowhere, because you don’t know if it’s going to be good later on, or bad.”

    On top of this mass disappearance of jobs, the large influx of U.S. military forces into Iraq in 2003 had many local people talking about what would happen to them.

    “It was like what are the Americans going to do, because for us they were like aliens,” said Alzubaidi. “We never see them, only in the movies.”

    Despite all the uncertainty in Iraq, Alzubaidi had to be resilient. He had to find a way to put food on the table for his parents, siblings, and himself.

    “I say you know what, let me get a bucket, put ice on it, put on four bottles of Pepsi,” said Alzubaidi. “And go around the bases and sell to Americans.”

    Alzubaidi would ride his bike up to 30 miles every day in the intense Iraq summer heat, where the average temperature would be 110 degrees Fahrenheit and up. He had to sell his sodas to U.S. service members, he had no other choice. His family would go hungry if he didn’t sell the drinks.

    “One day I left home 9:00 a.m. and I went around the bases, nobody wants to buy from me,” said Alzubaidi. “I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m screwed this day’. If I don’t sell anything, I have no cash money, what am I going to do?”

    Alzubaidi had to use all of his willpower and strength to keep trying to sell his sodas that day.

    “I was thirsty, hot, hungry, and tired,” said Alzubaidi. “I drove on my bike until like 6:00 p.m.” 

     After nine hours of riding his bike, and no soda sales to show for it, Alzubaidi was ready to throw in the towel and go home hungry. However, fate decided to intervene at the last base he stopped at.

    “I find an Army guy, a soldier, he said ‘Please tell me that you speak English?’ I said yes I do,” said Alzubaidi. “He said ‘Thank God, I was waiting for someone to help me.’”

    The soldier sent Alzubaidi to get some items at the store. When Alzubaidi returned with the items, the soldier offered him a great deal.

    “He said ‘Take your bucket, tomorrow, every day you come here, and we buy Pepsi from you every day,’” said Alzubaidi. “Every day I go and drop Pepsi, they give me the money. I’m done for the day.”

    Alzubaidi’s resiliency from that hard day was beginning to pay dividends. He continued to return to that location every day and sell sodas to the incoming units. He soon befriended several of the soldiers there, and began taking orders for more than just sodas. One night in particular put his resiliency to the test, when a new unit came into the base.

    “This old man he was giving the orders for everybody. I remember it was like dark, and he said ‘Hey you, get me six blocks of ice, and get me two cases of soda right this second,’” said Alzubaidi. “On my bike there was a box, a vegetable box, plastic. I have to break it in half [To fit the ice blocks], so I went 12 times, one mile back and forth.”

    After delivering the ice and soda, the unit then gave him an order of delivering 250 pieces of bread by 5:00 a.m. the following day, said Alzubaidi. He made the delivery on-time, which earned him the trust of the unit, and found him taking orders for 80 soldiers.

    “I keep working, working, working, make a lot of money, about $40,000 in about four to five months,” said Alzubaidi. “There are 80 people you are trying to feed, and I would not even just buy food. They want souvenirs, they want Iraqi flags, TV’s, hookahs.”

    While Alzubaidi’s resiliency was now paying off monetarily, it also had another benefit, one that would lead him down a new life path.

      “During that I was learning English,” said Alzubaidi. “I watched how people say the sentence, and I learned.”

    His English had improved so much during this time, that the unit he was buying things for recommended him to be a local national interpreter, said Alzubaidi. He soon found himself being hired by a company contracted to provide interpretation services for U.S. service members.

      This position would be a life changing opportunity for Alzubaidi, and lead him into a long career of working for and in the U.S. military. 

     A career that might not have happened had Alzubaidi’s resiliency faltered on a couple of very difficult days.