Iraqi Translator, U.S. Soldier Reunited In U.S. Ali Jabber Yasary served as a translator for the U.S. military in Iraq until the violence in his country forced him and his wife to flee. Now, with the help of an American soldier he worked with in Iraq, Yasary has a new home in California. But thousands of other Iraqis who served U.S. forces in Iraq are still waiting.
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Iraqi Translator, U.S. Soldier Reunited In U.S.

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Iraqi Translator, U.S. Soldier Reunited In U.S.

Iraqi Translator, U.S. Soldier Reunited In U.S.

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Now we have an update on a story that we first broadcast two years ago. It's about an Iraqi translator who fled his country because of death threats and a California National Guardsman who's gone to great lengths to help him. Both now find themselves building new lives after leaving Iraq.

NPR's Deb Amos has their story.

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Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible)

DEBORAH AMOS: Still on active duty, California National Guardsman Juan Estrada is a compact man, short and fit. I met him at his new house sparsely furnished in Antioch, California. He's just moved in. Ali Jabber and his wife Sura are here, too. Estrada helped them with a job, a driver's license, a car. In a way it's a roll reversal. Estrada is Ali's translator, a guide for the difficult transition to American life.

Mr. JUAN ESTRADA (National Guard sergeant, California): They came to live with us. I set them up with a room in the house. This little room in this peaceful world, near my family. But they didn't except that. I really did make a choice - at that point.

AMOS: Estrada says he split with his wife and college-aged son and daughter. They never did understand why he brought the Iraqis home. The long separations of military life had been a strain. The new guests led to the final break.

Estrada built a house for himself and his new Iraqi family. His wife and children were convinced that this was some delayed reaction to the war.

Mr. ESTRADA: I said, hey, this is the right thing to do. I'm sorry you're uncomfortable and you don't understand Arabs, or whatever that might be, you know. Even in a reunion, Ali is the reminder, a good reminder of something good that we did over there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMOS: That reunion is a gathering of Iraqi war veterans, a weekend of fishing and outdoor cooking in the delta region east of San Francisco.

Mr. MIKE GORSKI (National Guard unit member): No, it's got to burn down a little bit. But when it's ready I'll know.

AMOS: This guardsman unit meets once a year. Most have returned to civilian life, added pounds, gained a few more children. There are new marriages, more divorce. The yearly retreat is part therapy says Mike Gorski.

Mr. GORSKI: We tell the same stories every year and go over the same things. But the armies change, we change.

AMOS: They look after each other more, says Gorski. Iraq brought them closer together.

Mr. GORSKI: So I think what Iraq had taught me is the key is really focusing on the family and keep that bond. As Americans, I think we have lost the boat on the family.

AMOS: Ali and his wife are part of this family now. The former Iraqi translator has learned volleyball. His wife Sura joins the game. Her transformation is more remarkable. From the quiet young woman in a head scarf I met in Jordan two years ago, to a confident English speaker, hair flying, uncovered, smashing the ball over the net.

Guardsman Dean Schreve offers Ali advice about a college program.

Mr. DEAN SCHREVE (National Guard unit member): If you can get into the school program, we can cover it. It's not that expensive. We can make it for you.

AMOS: Offering financial support he knows the others will back, this is a significant effort considering most refugees resettled in the U.S. are struggling in the down-turned economy. Some desperate because they've become homeless, and others have gone back to Iraq. Juan Estrada doesn't want that to happen to Ali and Sura.

Mr. ESTRADA: The Iraq war is a chapter in my life. Iraq is part of my life. Does that make sense? So - and that's because of them.

AMOS: It was so important to you to help an Iraqi who would help you that you were willing to sacrifice a relationship with your own family for it.

Mr. ESTRADA: Yes. That's exactly right.

AMOS: We broke Iraq, and now we have to fix it offers Estrada in a way of explanation. He's been called up for duty in Baghdad again. He leaves in a few months time. Then Ali will worry about Estrada in such a dangerous place.

Now you and an American are as close as a father and a son.

Mr. ALI JABBER YASARY (Former Iraqi Translator): If you tell this story to anyone, you won't believe it. They say, I can't believe that an American, an individual American soldier, helped an Iraqi translator. It never happened. But see this great guy, he just stayed with me until now, until this moment, and I really appreciate it.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Antioch, California.

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