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Iraqi Refugee Finds "Home" at SCC

FYounusGrowing up in Baghdad, Iraq, Fawzi Younus never imagined he would one day work as part of the United States Army in order provide for his family. He never imagined he would be working toward becoming a U.S. Citizen or living in Kentucky, and he certainly never dreamed he would be attending Somerset Community College in pursuit of an American education.

Those things, however, have all come to fruition since 2003. That year, the United States invaded Iraq in the war that has been dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Younus, now 54, will graduate this month from Somerset Community Colleges Aviation Maintenance Technician program. He and his family reside in Lexington.

For Younus, life took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2003 when the conflict began. Younus had served for 27 years in the Iraqi Air Force. He joined when he was only 16 and attended Aircraft Technician Institute in Baghdad, which is a military school.

I loved my country and my job, said Younus. But in 2003, I lost everything. I lost my tools, my friends and my income. How was I supposed to care for my family?

Younus took odd jobs to survive. He became a taxi driver and then was hired by the U.S. government as a contractor to fix and paint two local schools. In 2007, he rejoined the new Iraqi army in order to assist in relieving the United States soldiers of their duties so they could return to their families and in order to make money, he said.

In the old regime, I was a Chief Warrant Officer, said Younus. In the new government, I was a private.

Younus said that because he had served in the Iraqi Army before the new government, which consists of the Islamic Dawa party and the Kurds, he began to receive threats. He feared for his life and the lives of his family, he said.
Because he was working with the U.S. military, he took a threatening letter he received to Captain Donald Machen, a member of the 82nd Airborne division. Captain Machen recommended Younus to the L3 Communication Company and he was hired as an interpreter for the U.S. military.

Then, my life went from bad to better, Younus said.

Younus spent four years with different American military units. Once, with the 275th military police unit, Younus was hit with an IED, an improvised explosive device. His right leg and his side were injured, requiring immediate surgery. Within two weeks, though, Younus was back in the streets on the job.

Those four years were the scariest time of my life, Younus said. It was hard to breathe. Every time I got in my car, I feared for my life.

In 2011, Younus applied for a special immigration visa (SIV) to come as a refugee to America. A letter from Sergeant Michael Peterson recommending Younus for the SIV reads, His services to our Company stand above those expected of a linguist in his work ethic, dedication to the job, and to the soldiers he works with. His English and Arabic skills are excellent and consistently improving. He has shown the commitment and integrity necessary to become a citizen of the United States.

In 2012, Younus and his wife, along with three of their younger children, were approved for immigration and came to Kentucky. Younus had family in the state and they advised him that Kentucky would be a good place to live. Soon after, his older three sons, all married, applied to join their father through the International Organization for Migration. Before long, the entire family was reunited in Lexington.

Within a week of arriving in America, Younus found a job at Georgia Pacific as a security guard through U.S. Security Associates, Inc. He has been there for three years. In that position, he works the night shift on Thursday, and works Friday and throughout the weekend. Monday through Thursday, he attends classes at SCC.

I needed to work, Younus said. I cannot just sit around and take money from others. I need to forget the past and know when I sign my name that I now represent the U.S. and I should know what Im doing.

Younus said that although he had been trained in aircraft technology in Iraq, he has still learned a lot at SCC.

Here, it is more in-depth and the professors are so knowledgeable, he said.

He and his family all work in order to support themselves. The financial aid he receives through SCC is used to supply his gas and other vehicle expenses due to traveling daily from Lexington to Somerset. Next year, Younus will be eligible to become a United States Citizen. He will also be looking for a position in the aviation field, hopefully in Kentucky, he said.

I am grateful to be here, said Younus. I love my home country, but I am proud to be in America.