Iraqi native training at Fort Leonard Wood

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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo - After almost fifteen years in Iraq, Pvt. Mari Hamid moved to the United States and is now a soldier in the U.S. Army.

Hamid said she moved to Syria with her mother and sister when Iraq became "really bad". They moved to the states, with help from the United Nations, two months shy of her 15th birthday.  

Hamid is in Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood to become a transportation specialist.

The sounds of gun shots are all too familiar with 20-year-old Hamid. She grew up with her family in Iraq hearing shots and seeing the presence of the U.S. military.

With memories still vivid in her head, Hamid said she had difficulties shooting guns at the beginning of her training.

"I thought I forgot about it, but when I came to basic and I heard the first gunshot the M-240 Bravo I froze there," Hamid said. "I felt like I was back in Iraq again, and all I thought about was my mom and how scared I was of losing her when I was in Iraq."

She said it was hard to hear the gun shots, which made it hard to shoot. After seven weeks of practice she said she got over her fear.

Hamid said her drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Thompson, stood by her with encouragement and directed her to Fort Leonard Wood's chaplain for extra help coping with memory of gun shots from her childhood.

"Hopefully by the time I get deployed it gets even better and I don't have to deal with it," Hamid said. "But if my battle buddy's lives are on the line, I don't care if gun fire scares me I'm going to fire every round I have to get that battle out of there."

Hamid said she owes a lot to Thompson because he would never let her quit.

"A lot of time he told me that I'm meant to be here, like a lot of other people would say you wanna go? Just go," Hamid said. "But he actually took the time and showed me why I'm meant to be here and showed me how much I can do."

She said he also helped her qualify in the shooting portion of basic.

"I was on his lane the day I qualified," Hamid said.

She said the hardest part about training is not the fact that she is from Iraq. She said, with a smile, it's the heat at Fort Leonard Wood.

The process of becoming a U.S. soldier, she said, has been easier than she thought. Hamid said it was way better than she expected.

"I thought it would be worse, like people talking about me being Iraqi or not trusting me, but here I am," Hamid said. "I have 112 battle buddies in AIT and I don't think I have a problem with any of them."

Staff Sgt. Bryan Castellano said he thinks members of Hamid's platoon treat her the same as everyone else.

"A lot of the soldiers, you know, I think are curious and go to ask her about how it is," Castellano said. "Some of them, you know, that have never left home are kind of, you know, they hear Iraq and think that everybody's a terrorist or what not, but then when they come across a soldier who's from Iraq and they get educated and just learn in another culture other from what they're used to, it widens up their horizons."

Castellano also said Hamid has an advantage over other soldiers.

"Being her background from being in Iraq, it'll serve her a lot better," Castellano said. "The other soldiers don't know what to except. With her being from the area, you know, she'll be able to speak their language not only in Iraq but Afghanistan she'll be able to pick up some of the language even though there's different languages in Afghanistan. She'd be well off, better than the others."

Hamid said her mom was not supportive with her choice in the beginning, but she said the idea has grown on her.

She said she plans to head back to her home state of Massachusetts where she is in the National Guard.

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