I first met Alyaa in June 2003 at our forward-operating base in south-central Baghdad. We didn’t have enough Arabic translators in the Army, partially because it seemed many had been kicked out under the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Alyaa, a recent Baghdad University graduate who spoke fluent English, French, and Arabic, showed up at our at our base, which was bustling with dozens of agitated Iraqis trying to get water, food, and medical care. Alyaa looked like any other recent college student—dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, looking to help out. She was eventually hired as a translator, and after seeing her hard-work, we brought her onto our small team.
“Princess Alyaa,” as we came to call her, traveled with our unit across Baghdad as an indispensable part of our team. During our tour in Iraq, Alyaa was not just our interpreter, she was our guardian angel. Every day, our lives were in her hands. More than once, she calmed down an aggravated Iraqi who threatened to do us harm. Alyaa’s service to the United States came at considerable risk to herself and to her family. While we slept in a fortified base, with only mortars being a true and constant threat, Alyaa returned to a neighborhood where there was no one to protect her from the militants who viewed her as a traitor to her country and her people.This article was originally published in msnbc.