Friday, August 3, 2007

Dreams for Democracy

Former son of Iraq reflects on changes in his native land

By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp
1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs

Rudy Lirato (center), a U.S. contractor and translator for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division's Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, returns from a mission in a village north of Baghdad, arriving back at Camp Taji, Iraq, via a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Lirato, who has worked with coalition troops for a little more than three years, said he hopes to help Iraq as the nation.  Photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp,1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.

CAMP TAJI — Like many immigrants before him, Rudy Lirato had a dream for his family-a dream firmly rooted in the ideals of freedom and democracy-when he left his native homeland of Iraq 30 years ago.

He is now serving as an interpreter and U.S. contractor who works with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Lirato left Iraq in 1977 with his wife for the city of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

“I had just gotten married to my sweetheart and knew that I would be drafted into the Iraqi army and that there was no future for me here,” said Lirato. “I filed for a visa with the Canadian embassy and my uncle had sponsored my mom and then my mom, in turn, sponsored me.”

Prior to his immigration to Canada, Lirato had just graduated from Baghdad’s Al-Zafrany TechnicalCollege with a degree in automotive engineer design. At the time, Saddam Hussein was only the vice president of Iraq, but Lirato explained that Hussein was the man “behind the curtain” pulling the strings and actually in control of what was happening in the country.

A few years later, in 1980, Hussein ruled Iraq completely, giving Lirato a reason to ensure that his father and other family members, still living in the totalitarian nation, made it safely out of the country.

“We had to get them out of Iraq because people were being beaten and killed for no reason. They would disappear if they criticized the Baath Party. They would be picked up by intelligence and you would never see them again,” he said. “You would never think about asking the government what happened, because if you did, you would disappear, too.

During his years in North America, Lirato, now a grandfather, and his wife raised four children. For his first two years on the American continent, Lirato worked odd jobs to make ends meet.

After saving money, he was eventually able to open his own convenience store and later a chain of them along with a doughnut shop franchise and a pizzeria. Selling the franchise business 18 years later, he began an Italian restaurant with three satellite stores for pick-up and delivery.

He was truly living the American dream, being successful in business, he said.

Eventually, after nearly three decades in Canada, Lirato and his family settled in Phoenix.

In 2004, he left the restaurant business behind because he saw the opportunity to help his former homeland after Sadaam Hussein’s regime fell in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The reason I came here was because this nation needed help,” he said. “The main reason I came to work with the Army was I believed in them and what they are doing as far as their wanting to help the people out of the goodness of their hearts.”

“The coalition forces helped Iraq get rid of a dictator, so their coming into Iraq was an excellent thing and many of the Iraqi people had been asking for U.S. help for years to get rid of Sadaam,” said Lirato.

Over his three years working with coalition forces, Lirato said he’s seen the good that they have been doing to help Iraq. In his current position for the 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div., Rudy translates as a member of the brigade’s embedded provincial reconstruction team assisting them with current efforts to include reconciliation.

“They’ve been doing a thousand percent in trying to reach out to the people,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how much they were doing and at first, they basically just offered an open check to help the Iraqi people get back on their feet.”

Lirato has helped coalition forces to refurbish and refurnish schools, work on water projects, electrical stations and other major undertakings.

Some of the larger missions that Lirato has assisted have included accompanying a 45-foot trailer filled with medicine into the city of Mosul, Iraq. In addition, when he was working in Mosul, he saw the coalition donate $50,000 to help renovate a mosque.

“I’ve worked in efforts in Iraq that have involved thousands and thousands of dollars, giving free food rations out to the people,” he said. “There have been a lot of people out there in the U.S. and other nations with big hearts making donations to help Iraqis.”

One of the things that really surprised Lirato was the humane way in which coalition troops and Iraqi security forces treat insurgents when they are captured as enemy combatants. It was an eye-opening experience, he said, as compared to the old days under Hussein.

“When Sadaam captured his enemies, he would give them a slap in the face and a punch in the stomach and then send them to their deaths in meat grinders—after days and days of torture,” said Lirato. “When the coalition forces capture insurgents, suspects are given a toothbrush, food and water and humane treatment. Officers tell their troops not to yell, but be as nice as they can.

“Now, terror suspects are assured of getting a fair trial,” added Lirato, explaining that there is a noticeable difference between Iraq as a democracy, opposed to when it was under a totalitarian regime.

Another impression that sticks with Lirato, he said, was how much the coalition troops go out of their way to respect cultural differences inherent in Iraqi society.

“They have a great respect for and really do care about what happens to the people here,” said Lirato. But, he said, there needs to be a lot more participation on the part of Iraqis to move the country forward towards democracy.

“Reaching the younger generation will be key as they are the future of Iraq,” said Lirato. “Iraqis need to recognize that U.S. and coalition forces are there to help them and that they should grab the opportunity that’s at their doorsteps. The coalition forces will not be here forever.

“Freedom isn’t free, it has cost the Iraqis and coalition precious souls for a good cause,” he added.

With so many different people living in Iraqi society to include Kurds, Shia, Sunni, Tarakaman, Yazeady and Christians, one of the keys to success in Iraq will be bringing all of the different groups together and uniting them, according to Lirato.

“They need to take seriously what they have in their hands and start following a different path, first to help their country and their families,” Lirato said. “If they don’t they will be living in a lot worse situation than they are now.

“But hopefully they will awaken and put their differences aside, and take one united way to successfully live in prosperity,” added Lirato.

Lirato said he believes very much in the type of democracy and freedom that he and his family have experienced since moving first to Canada and then, the United States—he hopes one day people in Iraq can have a similar type of freedom to pursue their own dreams

One of the proudest moments in his life, he added, will come when he finally becomes a U.S. citizen in a few short months.

“I can’t wait to tell the judge, the president of the United States, the congress and everyone else ‘In God we trust,’” said Lirato. “It’s going to be a big honor for me and for

my family.”