How an Iraqi college student during invasion became a US Army paratrooper

Sgt. Ali Alsaeedy, a Paratrooper assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division poses for a photo in front of his unit`s proud engineer castle at Fort Bragg, N.C., March 3, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

FORT BRAGG, N.C., — In the capital city of Baghdad during the 1980s a family of six brothers and one sister- all very close in age- played in the streets and parks of their hometown, enjoying the simple things in life they had at the time. Through the decades, the times and town had changed, streets and parks were not as simple. Sgt. Ali Alsaeedy, an Iraqi native and Paratrooper assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division describes his journey from being a young college student in Baghdad to becoming a Paratrooper in America`s Guard of Honor.

Alsaeedy, the son of an officer reservist serving in the Iraqi Army Ministry of Defense, says Iraq was a joyous place to grow up. “We played basketball, walked to school, all the children in the neighborhood were close,” said Alsaeedy. “There were negatives in politics, but we believed in our father and everything was fine.”

Alsaeedy`s dream was to travel. “Everybody`s goal [in high school] was to travel the world, places like U.K., U.S., and Europe,” said Alsaeedy. He kept that dream with him before pursuing a degree in biochemical engineering at the University of Baghdad.

“I was in my second year of college when everything happened— the troops arrived,” said Alsaeedy. “It was a year later when it seemed things began to settle down. We all were trying to educate ourselves on the matter because we believed- and still do – that the U.S. forces and allies were there to transform the country and help. We felt there was not going to be any more tyranny system or sects of families taking over the country, doing whatever they felt they wanted…so we believed in the change and welcomed it.”

After graduating college, Alsaeedy needed to find work, preferably in the engineering field. He said it was extremely hard to come by the due to the nature of the country and most employers only hired within their sects.

“I did not know exactly what to do or what I wanted to do, but I did know that I wanted to work for and with the Service members. It was not just about money or security, it was about being a part of something important to me,” said Alsaeedy.

Unable to break into the U.S. contractor market, Alsaeedy`s education and skill-set eventually gravitated employers to him within the private sector. In 2005, he found stability in the information technology field as a networking specialist for satellite communications.

“Then one day a man came into the shop and it changed my life forever,” said Alsaeedy. “He enquired about an internet network to be installed on a military base in Baghdad. I took the job. After the work was complete, they were very satisfied and needed more, so they hired me full-time. My English was very fluent and I became a translator for them too.”

While the years passed, Alsaeedy`s experiences and relationships grew through the ranks, by 2007 he was a popular name amongst higher ranking officials with the Air Force and the Marines in Alqaim, Iraq.

“I saw in the Soldiers what very few of us [natives] see,” said Alsaeedy. “They were trustful, pleasant, and respectful; they integrated me into their brotherhood.”

“I remember the insurgency propaganda, it stated ‘The Americans are here to destroy everything…’,” said Alsaeedy.” But they were not, they were building. They built infrastructure for the population and barracks for the Iraqi Army. They supplied resources increasing our livelihood; creating jobs for husbands and fathers.”

At the end of 2007, Alsaeedy received some big news. President George W. Bush signs and passes a declaration allowing vetted contractors who had worked for a minimum of five years for the U.S. Government to be granted a special immigrant visa for them and their families. The visa allowed them to live and work within the United States.

At the end of 2009, the surge of U.S. withdraw began.

“I slowly started to see things change,” said Alsaeedy. The protection was decreasing and so was the structure. I knew if I stayed, my family and I were going to die soon.”

In 2010, Alsaeedy met his five-year requirement in order to qualify for the special visa for him and his family to move to the United States.

He arrived and settled in Norfolk, Virginia. A new country and culture surrounded him. What he once knew as a world of war was now a life of peace and the pursuit of happiness. He was immediately hired by a first class oil and gas company from 2011-2012.

“I did not hurt for money, I did a lot of international travel…but I did not feel grateful,” said Alsaeedy. “At this time I owed the U.S. Government nothing. I fulfilled my obligation. But I felt grateful for everything they gave me in Iraq and the United States. I wanted to give them more; for my daughter, for myself and for those brothers that I became a part of oversees.”

He enlisted into the U.S. Army in August 2013 as a combat engineer. Shortly thereafter, he attended basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri.
Alsaeedy showed off his potential, quick learning abilities, and outstanding physical fitness. He was afforded the opportunity to attend airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia upon graduation.

“I found out that I was going to be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division,” said Alsaeedy. “I knew it was an honor and a prestigious unit. I remember seeing the ‘Double-A’ patch in Iraq. And to realize that I am now one of those Paratroopers along with my Family, I was beyond excited and humbled. However, it truly did not hit me until I came to Fort Bragg and walked through the division`s museum, that`s when I realized I was a part of something special.”

In 2014, Alsaeedy arrived full of energy to Alpha Company, 307th BEB. He was a new ‘Panther Engineer’ and integrated just fine amongst his leaders and peers.

“We did a lot of training. We went to every kind of weapons range you could think of. I learned demolitions, steel cutting, too many ruck marches and was just very happy,” said Alsaeedy.

There was a deep secret in Alsaeedy`s heart he was holding, there was something missing. Another reason why he joined and he could not force it. It could only happen on its own.

“My real dream was to return to Iraq,” said Alsaeedy. “I wanted to be an asset to the unit. I had the language, the background, and culture. I knew if I ever went back I would put myself out there to be as valuable as I could for the 307th.”

In early 2015 the 3rd BCT deployed to southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. At the time, it was the newest campaign in the fight against the Islamic State. There, Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division provided advice and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces.

In a twist of fate, Alsaeedy’s unit operated in the same neighborhood he was raised in and grew up around. His dream finally came true.

“It wasn`t easy at first,” Alsaeedy said while looking up with glassy eyes. “But it was my leadership. They understood my situation. They supported me. It made my job and task much easier.”

Alsaeedy`s background and capabilities soon became an asset for his battalion commander all the way up to division command sergeant major, and higher ranking officials in multiple tactical operations centers around the area of operations.

With his hard work and commitment to his leadership and unit`s mission, Alsaeedy became a part of the 82nd Abn. Div. legacy he thought so much of…he became the first battlefield promotion to noncommissioned officer during the OIR campaign.

He was pinned with the rank of sergeant during the fall of 2015 upon the unit`s redeployment to Fort Bragg.

His accomplishments and accolades did not stop there.

“When I became an NCO great things began to happen for me and my Family,” said Alsaeedy.

Alsaeedy attended the Warrior Leader`s Course soon after becoming a sergeant, learning technical skills and correspondence in the craft of an NCO.

Alsaeedy`s motivation and physical fitness separated himself from his peers. He wanted to go to Sapper school and master his craft as an engineer.

“I may have had a more advanced role during deployment, but I am still an engineer in the 307th,” said Alsaeedy.

Early 2016 came around and he began training with the division`s Best Sapper Team, who were preparing to compete in the U.S. Army Best Sapper Competition.

To keep himself busy and find new challenges, Alsaeedy attended the Fort Bragg Pre-Ranger Course which is a two-week course that evaluates and prepares future candidates for the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

He never went to Sapper School though. Immediately upon graduating the Pre-Ranger Course, he was put on a bus to Ranger School.

Alsaeedy went straight through the 62-day course, a course that normally has a high attrition rate.

“I have been busy that`s for sure,” said Alsaeedy. “But I felt the more I accomplish as an NCO and a Paratrooper, the more I am giving back to the Army. I am just so grateful. I cannot put into words how I feel. Landing the opportunity during the mid-2000s, to becoming a citizen, a Soldier deployed to my hometown and a Ranger. My wife and child love the installation, the people, and my daughter is receiving a great education from the schools on Fort Bragg. The Army adopted me and I am forever in debt to the most professional and perfect organization— the 82nd Airborne [Division].”


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