Translating the War

From Hebron to Camp Mabry: A Palestinian's path to U.S. citizenship

Photo by Katie Hayes

Sgt. Michael Turk arrived in Austin from Hebron, on the West Bank, in 1996, shortly after marrying a U.S. citizen, the daughter of a Palestinian father and American mother. The same year, Turk (his given name is Muhammed Abu Snaineh) obtained a green card, and in 2001, three months before September 11, he applied for citizenship. He was interviewed by U.S. Citizen­ship and Immigration Services in 2002, and again in 2004, but never received a response.

Though Turk says American citizenship was important in his decision to join the U.S. military, another motivation was the large cultural divide he saw concerning the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2005, Turk entered the 09L (in military lingo, "Zero Nine Lima") Interpreter/Translator program with the Texas Army National Guard. The program is designed to help bridge the communication gap between U.S. military forces and communities in the Middle East. Since the program's inception in 2003, the U.S. Army has graduated 675 soldiers who are native or heritage speakers fluent in Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, Dari, and Pashto and mobilized them in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In late 2007, Turk returned to Austin from a one-year deployment in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, where he drove a Humvee for the U.S. Marines and worked closely with Iraqi police. Currently, Turk's main focus at Camp Mabry is on the recruitment and retention of Arabic-speaking soldiers. Through community outreach, advertisements in Arabic newspapers, and one-on-one contact within the community, he spreads the message about the benefits of joining the U.S. military, which include an expedited path to citizenship. Turk acquired his citizenship Sept. 18 – just in time to register to vote and cast his ballot in the Nov. 4 election.

Photo by Katie Hayes

Photo by Katie Hayes

Photo by Katie Hayes

Photo by Katie Hayes

Photo by Katie Hayes

Photo by Katie Hayes

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Michael Turk, Camp Mabry, Arabic translator

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