One Man's War on Terror The American GI from Berlin

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Part 3: Deployed in Iraq


His first wound was little more than a serious hematoma. He was on patrol in Tamim, on the northeastern edge of Ramadi, a city 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Baghdad. At the time, in the winter of 2006/2007, Ramadi was still a symbol of the miserable shortcomings of the American campaign in Iraq. There were 42 attacks against Americans on a single day in January 2007.

On Jan. 9, a bullet struck Jamaleldine in the chest. His bulletproof vest saved his life. But although the bullet didn't penetrate the vest, it hit his sternum and ribs with a powerful blow. Jamaleldine now keeps the bullet, a dented piece of metal, as a souvenir in a small bag on his dresser in Opferbaum.

His wife Zuhaira is cleaning up in the kitchen, partly listening to the conversation and partly trying to ignore it. A God-fearing woman with kind eyes, she became a Baptist two years ago. She says she has never been happier than she is now in Opferbaum. She serves tea and lemonade and sits down at the table with Jeff. Parts of his dress uniform lie between them. The war is always there between the soldier and his wife, sometimes in the form of silence and sometimes as an argument.

When he began talking about enlisting back then, in Arkansas, she thought he was out of his mind. She said to him: "You're not an American. It's not your war." She assumed that the US military wouldn't even accept a German, a foreigner, into its ranks. She later learned that all it takes to enlist is a Green Card.

Zuhaira Jamaleldine, who is 31, despises war and any form of violence. One of her brothers was murdered in a shooting in Brooklyn. Zuhaira always wanted to live a peaceful, ordinary life -- and Jeff seemed to be the right man for that.

She clearly has difficulty accepting his personal war against terror and his newfound interest in protecting the world. "He went to university," she says. "He's smart. He could find a good job anywhere, but he has to join the army, of all things. He has to go to war."

A Perfect Score

During the Cold War, residents of West Berlin were exempt from serving in the German military, the Bundeswehr. But Jeff was young enough that he was eligible for military service once it had been reintroduced after German reunification. After graduating from high school, he passed the entrance examination with flying colors. He performed 10 months of compulsory military service with Infantry Battalion 581 in Berlin's Kladow district, finishing when he was just 19.

After that he went to America to attend college. When he enlisted in the US Army 10 years later, at 29, the recruiters were astonished by his scores. His "PULHES Factor," the Military Physical Profile Serial System which measures a recruit's physical capabilities, consisted of six ones -- a perfect score.

In the acronym PULHES, P stands for physical capacity or stamina, U for upper extremities, L for lower extremities, H for hearing and ears, E for eyes and P for psychiatric. Jamaleldine was the cream of the crop according to all six criteria.

In August 2006, he was sent to Kuwait, followed by Camp Buren and the Al Taqaddum airbase, before finally being posted to Ramadi. It was the worst possible time to arrive in Ramadi. Beginning that fall, and throughout the entire winter, the city and surrounding Anbar Province were on fire.

As a scout with the rank of specialist, Jamaleldine did what he had been trained to do. Together with his platoon of 30 men, he would scout the region for enemy troop movements. In the year that lay ahead, he and his fellow soldiers would take prisoners, kill and wound enemy troops. They would be ambushed and come under sniper fire, and they would be hit by rockets. Their modus operandi was to march through the hot desert, making a wide berth around the city so that they could slip into southern Ramadi neighborhoods unnoticed. There they would quickly and silently descend on houses, bind and gag the residents and hide out for 24 to 48 hours to observe activity in the area.

When asked what he considers his personal contribution to peace to be, Jamaleldine says that, first of all, he killed terrorists, thereby preventing them from setting any more bombs. How many terrorists? "A few." Second, he says, he and the other scouts applied so much pressure that, within a few months, the fee for setting bombs had jumped from $50 to $500 per bomb, making life more difficult for the enemy. Third, says Jamaleldine, they took weapons out of circulation that would otherwise have been used against the civilian population. Fourth, they captured some of the people behind the attacks, thereby weakening the network of terror. Finally, he adds, they managed to win over normal Iraqis, the peaceful ones, and convince them to cooperate.

In return for the hardship of deployment in a war zone, Jamaleldine received $1,700 in monthly pay, a $750 Iraq bonus, $250 in separation pay and a $400 contribution to his savings, making a total monthly income of $3,100, tax-free.

Jamaleldine thinks the pay is adequate. He donates 10 percent of his income to UNICEF every month, something he has been doing for a long time. It is almost as if his constant goal is to be a role model and a hero, even in ordinary life.

He was not one of those soldiers who make disparaging remarks about the Iraqis and call them "sand niggers." Instead, he felt in Ramadi that he was there to help the country and its people. In the streets of Ramadi, Iraqis called him by his middle name, Samir. He had a kind word for anyone who would listen. Beginning in the spring of 2007, more and more people began approaching him in a friendly manner every day, as the terror subsided and tribal leaders in the region began to cooperate with the Americans.

Compared with the preceding winter, in the months of March, April, May and June it felt like peace had broken out. The attacks became more infrequent, it was easier to plan operations and soon the troops were spending as much time on reconstruction projects as they were on combat operations. But the calm was deceptive -- extremely deceptive. It suddenly evaporated on the night of June 30, in the turmoil of the Battle of Donkey Island, which almost claimed Jamaleldine's life.

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