Hundreds of Arabs help train troops
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Contrary to some media reports, Arabs living in Germany signed up by the hundreds to participate in a recent exercise to train U.S. soldiers for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, Joint Multinational Training Command officials say.
The officials were responding to reports in the German and U.S. media that suggested the Army had trouble hiring enough role-players to participate in the exercise at Hohenfels’ Joint Multinational Readiness Center.
Jesse Johnson, the center’s deputy operations officer, said last week hundreds of native Arabic-speakers were recruited to portray local civilians to prepare the 173rd Airborne Brigade for deployment to Afghanistan, and the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade for deployment to Iraq later this year.
“We had no problem hiring them. We were able to come up with the numbers we required to make our exercise successful,” Johnson said.
Bernd Specker, manager of SST GmbH, the contractor responsible for hiring the civilians, said his firm recruited 450 Arabic speakers and about 50 supervisors and managers for the Army through newspaper advertisements and seven casting sessions in cities across Germany during February.
Johnson and JMTC spokesman Maj. Eric Bloom said reports that suggested anti-American feelings among European Arabs hindered the recruiting were misleading.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that a number of candidates stalked out of a casting session last month in Berlin when they learned for whom they’d be working. Of about 50 people there, fewer than five signed on, the story said.
Last month the Christian Science Monitor quoted European Arabs who said they refused to participate in the exercise because of U.S. foreign policy and harsh working conditions. The story also quoted a European Kurd who supported the training.
Johnson said he assumed there are some Germans who have anti-American views but added that, “… they don’t have to work for anybody they don’t want to work for.”
The Arabic speakers ended up working mostly with the 173rd Airborne, which is headed for Pashtun-speaking southern Afghanistan.
The brigade was originally headed for Iraq but two months ago got word it was going to Afghanistan instead. By then it was too late to change the contract, Bloom said.
With the exercise kickoff looming, JMRC attempted to recruit 15 Pashtun advisers and managed to get 10 to 12 to participate, Johnson said.
Aziz Salah, an Iraqi who has lived in Germany since 1978, said he signed up to help train the Americans because he supports their mission in his former homeland.
“We also wanted to know something about the American soldiers, how they work and what they do,” said Salah, who spent time in Iraq in 2003 trying to help Iraqis rebuild.
Salah said the exercise was hard work for the role players but enjoyable.
“We had to show the soldiers how Afghans live. We tried to tell the soldiers how to work there and respect the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
“They are Muslims there and most American soldiers don’t know anything about Islam.”
The use of Arabic speakers was a first for JMRC, Johnson said.
“They came from almost every Arabic-speaking country that is out there. We found that they have done an excellent job for us,” he said.
“In the past we have used German speakers to serve this purpose but we went to the Arabic speakers because of their culture. They brought things to the training table that we have not been able to get by using just German speakers.”