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Former Iraqi interpreter for U.S. Marines earning MBA at Roosevelt University

Posted: 03/31/2014
For three years Iraqi native Samawi (Sam) Al Helli interpreted Arabic for the United States Marines in Iraq and helped the Marines and Iraq accomplish mutual goals.  Today he is studying at Roosevelt University and will graduate in December with an MBA in international business. 
 
When the Iraqi Civil War started in 2006, Al Helli bravely decided to stay in his homeland and become an interpreter and security advisor for the Marines through a company called Global Linguist Solutions.  As a Muslim Shiite, he and his family were forced to leave their home by Al Qaeda (Sunni Extremists).  Their house was later burned down by extremists and his father, a businessman and tribal leader who also was his inspiration, was barely able to feed his large family.  “I could have abused my position as a Marine interpreter to get revenge,” he said, “but I believe that you must treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s the only way to end the cycle of violence.”

Al Helli also used this philosophy in his initial interactions with Americans, who many Iraqis believed “were like aliens from another planet.” “When I began talking with American soldiers, I realized they were people like me trying to make a better life for themselves,” he said.  To earn the trust of the Marines, he chose to volunteer to be on the front lines with them in combat situations.  The Marines called him “Devil Terp” and he and they watched out for each other.
 
“During my time with U.S. Marines, I played a critical role in saving hundreds of Marines and civilians and assisted in capturing more than 100 terrorists and their weapons caches,” he said.  “To this day, my best friends are Marines.”

A Marine officer helped Al Helli enter the United States as a U.S. Resident through the Special Immigrant Visa program and he first lived in the U.S. with a Marine he met in Iraq in 2007.   “I was born in Baghdad, but grew up with the Marines,” said Al Helli, who will become a United States citizen in three years.
  
Al Helli said that Iraq is a better country in many ways than it was under the regime of Saddam Hussein.  He pointed out that there is free speech and a free press, a middle class and democratic elections. “There’s now hope for a better future, something we didn’t have before,” he said. 

The 26-year-old Al Helli, whose native language is Arabic, learned English by listening to American Rock and Heavy Metal music.  After moving to Chicago in 2012, he chose Roosevelt because he was impressed with the University’s founding principles, social justice mission, great reputation, environmentally-efficient Wabash Building and modern business program.
  
At Roosevelt, he took a two-week international negotiation course at La Sorbonne University in Paris.  While there, he learned how business in France is different from that in the United States and the Middle East.  “For example,” he said, “in a retail store the customer must take the initiative to approach the sales person first.”  During his career, he has worked with Americans, Europeans, Arabs and Kurds.

The only Iraqi student at Roosevelt, Al Helli earned his undergraduate degree in computer engineering from Al Mamoon University in Baghdad.  He is currently volunteering with the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society in Chicago where he works on the website and provides orientation to newly arrived Iraqis. His goal is to work in management or sales for a multi-national United States corporation. 

If you would like to contact Samawi Al Helli, you can email him at samawi.alhelli@gmail.com .