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Service Before Self: One Airman’s journey from Iraq to the Guard

Senior Airman Mohammed Alzubaidi, an electrical systems specialist with the 118th Civil Engineer Squadron, works on power line fuses on July 17, 2017 at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Camp Douglas, Wisconsin .

Senior Airman Mohammed Alzubaidi, an electrical systems specialist with the 118th Civil Engineer Squadron, works on power line fuses on July 17, 2017 at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Camp Douglas, Wisconsin . Alzubaidi worked for 8 years as a linguist for American forces in Iraq before moving to the U.S. and enlisting in the Tennessee Air National Guard. (Courtesy photo by Senior Airman Mohammed Alzubaidi)

Nashville, Tenn. --

After eight years of working a job that frequently put you in dangerous situations, anyone would be happy to start a new life living and working in a safer place like the United States.

“I was happy, I'm leaving a country that’s still behind,” said Senior Airman Mohammed Alzubaidi, an electrical systems specialist in the 118th Civil Engineer Squadron who had been working as a civilian interpreter for U.S. forces in Iraq. “I just leave, try start a new life, [where] there’s no blood in it, no threats, and make friends.”

However starting a new life in a new country is no easy task.

He was having trouble finding any kind of work, said Alzubaidi. He was living out of the home of a colonel he worked with in Iraq in upstate New York.

He did not enjoy living in New York and was having a difficult time there, until he got a call from an old friend of his living in Tennessee.

“I called him several times, I was like, do you want to get you master’s,” said Oday Dean, a civilian Arabic interpreter who worked alongside Alzubaidi for two years in Iraq. “He was like yes. I told him you need to come over, I have an apartment, you can live with me for a while.”

He decided to make the move to La Vergne, Tennessee and live with Dean, said Alzubaidi. He was soon able to find a job repairing cell phones, and within a year enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University’s master’s program for electrical engineering.

He graduated with his master’s degree in two years, but was having trouble finding employment in his field in the private sector. His friend again gave him some good advice.

“I told Mohammed you need to join the government, somewhere,” said Dean. “Whether it’s Air Force, FBI, whatever, just join them.”

Coupled with his friend’s recommendation, prior experience serving alongside the military, and the possibility to work in his field of electrical engineering, Alzubaidi decided that he wanted to enlist.

He went down to the recruiting station and first spoke with the Navy and the Army, said Alzubaidi. Both branches said they didn’t need him.

While he was at the recruiting station, an Air National Guard recruiter took notice of his interest in enlisting, said Alzubaidi. After speaking with him, Alzubaidi determined the ANG was the best place for him to serve.

After doing the initial processing, Alzubaidi enlisted and was given a job in the 118th Logistics Readiness Squadron. While this job was not utilizing his degree, he put his service before his own desires in order to best serve the military and his new country.

“I was coming from my heart, because I want to protect the Constitution and the citizens,” said Alzubaidi. “I don’t want the bad guys to come here.”

Alzubaidi served for three years in the 118th LRS, working diligently in his new position.

“He’s a hard worker,” said Senior Airman Ashley Ross, a material management Airman from the 118th LRS. “He definitely wants to get in there and do his work, not sit around.”

While Alzubaidi worked diligently in his new position, he always felt he could serve the ANG best using his expertise as an electrical engineer.

“I told him just wait, you’re just like a pearl in a shell,” said Dean. “When they open it they will know where to position you, don’t give up.”

Alzubaidi’s chance to serve in his best capacity would arise at a very unexpected place, at a wing cookout.

While at the cookout, he was talking with a lieutenant colonel and told her about his degrees in electrical engineering, said Alzubaidi. Upon hearing this, the lieutenant colonel said that he needed to be working in civil engineering.

The lieutenant colonel connected him to the leadership in the 118th CES, and soon enough was hired on to work as an electrician. Alzubaidi’s perseverance had finally paid off.

“I was almost going to dance,” said Alzubaidi. “I was so happy, because I was to be an engineer, I was to be an electrician.”

“He was very happy for somebody to find him,” said Dean. “He came in, he was flying, he was like a little bird, he was very happy.”

Then to make the situation even better, Alzubaidi was able to get hired on as an electrician in his civilian job as a direct result of his electrician job in the 118th CES.

Even though things are looking up for Alzubaidi, he has not forgotten his difficult beginnings selling sodas on the street of Baghdad, or the dangerous job he worked as an interpreter in Iraq.

“I tell my wife, whatever we went through, I don’t want my daughter to go through that,” said Alzubaidi. “Before I go to bed, I thank God that I'm here, and sound and safe.”

Nor has his dedication to service before self core value diminished.

“I'm called for anything, I'm ready to do it,” said Alzubaidi. “My mission is to help citizens, that’s why I'm here.”