Scout Learns Arabic to Help Platoon, Mission

BAGHDAD (Dec. 4, 2007) - When Sgt. Jason Stisser, of Troop O, 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment found out he was coming back to Iraq, he quickly brushed up on his Arabic. That prior preparation has been benefiting both him and his platoon in their current duties.

Based out of Forward Operating Base Prosperity in central Baghdad, his unit, attached to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, covers the Karkh District.

In a recent clearing mission dubbed, Operation Saber Sweep, the white and blue platoons of 4-2nd SCR, along with Iraqi Army soldiers, went from apartment building to apartment building gathering census information on the area residents.

Recently, many of the residents complained of wrongful eviction notices. "Outlaw" Troop Soldiers went around collecting data such as lease agreements or ownership documents to make sure they would not be further harassed.

As their Stryker vehicles rolled up to the apartments before sunrise, the group of Soldiers, who deployed from Vilseck, Germany, cleared each of the floors before waking up most residents.

"We have to get here early before they head to work," said Staff Sgt. Joaquin Reyna, of Fresno, Calif.

Stisser's ability to converse with the local populace has not only helped bring them a cheese-and-bread breakfast during the mission, but also helped make their job of receiving information from the Karkh residents easier.

"It's such a big deal when you try to speak their language," said the Nashville, Tenn. native. "Just like at our home station, I don't think we should be walking around Germany without learning how to say 'excuse me, please and I'm sorry' … just the basic stuff."

Although their platoons have Iraqi interpreters with them, the anomaly of a westerner who speaks Arabic seems to bring about trust. His interaction with residents, merchants and Iraqi Army soldiers makes it easier on the rest of his unit.

"There's a stigma with what we do; they think we think they are terrorists or something," Stisser said. "What I try to tell them all I need is info."

Stisser started learning conversational Arabic when he was deployed in Taji, Iraq with the 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), then at Fort Hood, Texas back in 2005. He called learned simple phrases through an embarrassing event.

"I was taken off the line," said the scout. "It's one of the most embarrassing things for a scout to be taken off the line; it's like punishment. So, when I was put back on the line, I tried to be more valuable to my platoon."

Back then, he learned simple phrases from his interpreters to get children to go buy drinks and snacks from local vendors. Now, as he and his unit live out of the Coalition Outpost Ramagon together in Karkh, Stisser spends more time speaking to Iraqi Army soldiers. His fellow scouts started calling him "jundee," which means "soldier" in Arabic.

He's the closest thing we have to an IA," joked Sgt. Kevin Baker, of Tampa, Fla.

Stisser, who refers to himself as a traditionalist, said he honors the Iraqi culture because he considered himself the same.

"I tell everybody that all you have to do is look at the Old Testament," he said. "A lot of their customs comes from their religion. I respect those who are traditionalist. It's just the little things. They'll bring you in and have chai (tea) with you."

Stisser is currently studying Arabic through interactive computer software, but learns a lot by carrying index cards with a few vocabulary words.

"Right now, my grammar is like 'Me Tarzan, you Jane,'" he said. "Sometimes, I'll get into a conversation with an IA [soldier] and get in way over my head. So, I'll have to bring an interpreter over.

"I try to use each of these words in a conversation at least one time a day," he said pointing to the list of phonetically written words. "My goal is, by March, to go with my section and see if we have a need for interpreters for certain missions. Sometimes, I feel like it's not helping out the platoon yet - which is my biggest priority."