United States Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ahmed M. Khalil is fluent in five different Arabic dialects and has used these skills in the past to help US troops when he was a teenager in Baghdad.
Marine 2nd Lieutenant Ahmed M. Khalil has spent more than a decade working with American forces, both as a civilian contractor and as a Marine. To understand what has taken him from the banks of the Tigris River to the shores of Lake Ontario and beyond, one must know the hard work and skills of communication he has nurtured from a young age and his devotion to helping others. Khalil had a knack for comprehending languages early in life. He taught himself English with help of subtitles by the age of 12, thanks in part to a steady diet of American action films. By 2003, at the age of 15, he put those skills to use assisting the military coalition in Baghdad.
“I started helping the coalition as a translator around August 2003. It started with me hanging out at a [Forward Operating Base] inside a school in Baghdad. I started talking to Marines, and they noticed I spoke English well. From there, I kept assisting where needed.”
- CAPT Ahmed Khalil
Being an interpreter meant helping the military navigate a language and cultural landscape far different from that of the soldiers and Marines. Khalil can speak and write in English, as well as the Arabic Dialects of Levantine, Gulf, Iraqi, Egyptian and Modern Standard Arabic. This diversity meant he could communicate between all who found themselves at the crossroads in the Middle East.
Khalil would spend the next couple years helping the coalition with the approval of his parents as long as he stayed in school. By 2005, Khalil graduated high school and employed his people and language skills again, this time with far reaching benefits to his country and the military.
“My uncle wanted to start business with the US Government,” said Khalil. “In order for it to work, he wanted me to help work between his company and the US due to my fluency in both languages. My uncle started me on assisting contracts as the operations manager for small contracts such as supply, construction, electrical all the way to the big ones. I was a key link between the US government and the local company and with on-site supervision.”
As he worked, the company grew and expanded as did the scope of the projects to include water treatment plants, Camp Victory infrastructure and other facilities for the coalition and Iraqi cities. Khalil still found time to improve himself and attend college at University of Al -Mustansyria for a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in spite of the hefty responsibilities.
As the decade moved on, safety became more and more of a concern for Khalil, and he often moved his family around to avoid making them a target of opportunity for insurgency. He lived aboard Camp Victory, but would travel to the university, surrounded by militants.
That wouldn’t be Khalil’s only exposure to danger, though. Some jobs would take him through the “Triangle of Death,” a hotbed of sectarian violence, in an effort to assist the coalition with re-building efforts. It was this selfless act and courage that would help pave the way for him to earn the title U.S. Marine.
Khalil earned his Bachelor’s degree in 2009 and soon made efforts to leave the country.
In January of 2010 Khalil immigrated to the United States and became a lawful resident. Simply living in America wasn’t enough for him though, Khalil wanted to be a citizen and serve his new homeland, he wanted to join the ranks of the “Few and the Proud”. In May 2011, he stepped on the yellow footprints and underwent Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Khalil left the Island a Marine and an American citizen three months later.
“My first idea being here was to pay back to America that saved my life on many occasions over there. I feel it as a duty. There many ways you can contribute to your nation. I wanted to join an organization that would build me up. I knew what the Marines were about, from my time over there. So I chose to be a Marine.”
Khalil became an administrative clerk for the 11th Marine Regiment in Camp Pendleton, California. But he wasn’t done improving himself. He attained the rank of sergeant meritoriously and submitted an Enlisted Commissioning Package to become an officer right after getting his foreign degree accredited to the equivalent of a U.S. Bachelor’s degree. In the spring of 2014, while serving as a staff secretary administrative chief and protocol noncommissioned officer for Marine Corps Central Command (Forward) he found out he had made selection to officer.
Khalil has spent the past 16 months going through the Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, honing his leadership skills. According to Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Khalil is one of only 58 Iraqi-born who have worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, and one of far fewer to be commissioned.