Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Remembering Roy

By Blake Hall Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article, "Remembering Roy," as a eulogy to my Iraqi interpreter, Mohammed, who I loved like a younger brother. Though it was edited from the published version of the story, the last time I spoke to Roy, as my platoon was preparing to leave Baghdad, he ...

PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

By Blake Hall

Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article, "Remembering Roy," as a eulogy to my Iraqi interpreter, Mohammed, who I loved like a younger brother. Though it was edited from the published version of the story, the last time I spoke to Roy, as my platoon was preparing to leave Baghdad, he told me, "I'm scared." I'd never seen him express himself so openly or express anything but teenage bravado. I felt very selfish -- ashamed of my joy for having completed my tour of duty, powerless to fight a bureaucratic rule that prevented me from bringing Roy to America before he had completed a year of service.

The creed I swore to uphold as a Ranger reads in part, "Never shall I fail my comrades." Yet, as I stood before Roy on that dark night in Baghdad, his over-sized boots stubbing the gravel outside the trailers where we slept, I felt like I was failing him -- my country was failing him -- by leaving him behind when he had given himself to us so completely. When I learned of his death several months later, the guilt was all consuming.

By Blake Hall

Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article, "Remembering Roy," as a eulogy to my Iraqi interpreter, Mohammed, who I loved like a younger brother. Though it was edited from the published version of the story, the last time I spoke to Roy, as my platoon was preparing to leave Baghdad, he told me, "I’m scared." I’d never seen him express himself so openly or express anything but teenage bravado. I felt very selfish — ashamed of my joy for having completed my tour of duty, powerless to fight a bureaucratic rule that prevented me from bringing Roy to America before he had completed a year of service.

The creed I swore to uphold as a Ranger reads in part, "Never shall I fail my comrades." Yet, as I stood before Roy on that dark night in Baghdad, his over-sized boots stubbing the gravel outside the trailers where we slept, I felt like I was failing him — my country was failing him — by leaving him behind when he had given himself to us so completely. When I learned of his death several months later, the guilt was all consuming.

For two years, my guilt prevented me from writing his story; the words were tangled in a web of powerful emotions that I navigated all too slowly. But, thanks to two wonderful teachers in Boston, Thomas Delong and Michelle Seaton, I was able to tell Roy’s story, so that my men would be able to remember him and so the world would know that he had character and honor. I will always treasure the hundreds of responses I received from readers. The responses affirmed our common humanity.

One of those readers, Colonel Dan Vannatter, helped me identity the contracting company that employed Roy. In January, 2011, almost three years to the day that Roy was killed, I called a phone number, the only contact information on file with the contracting company. After several rings, Roy’s mother answered the phone.

Roy’s mother and father, a college-aged brother, and a teenage sister (names withheld for safety issues) are all alive, though not safe, in Baghdad. With the help of two UC-Berkeley law students, Matthew Pelnar (a former marine corp captain) and Arusha Gordon, along with Wynne Cathcart, a partner at Morrison Foerster, we have been able to process visa applications for each of Roy’s family members. I know that bringing Roy’s family to America is what he would want.

At one point, we thought that the family was going to arrive in the U.S. last December. Each family member had completed interviews and medical screenings at the embassy and we thought that we were home free. They want to come to Virginia to live near me, and I was getting ready to help them make the transition. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Roy’s family is currently in a state of limbo as the case is pending a background check for the family members. His mother is understandably bitter about the long delay. She rightly wonders why, "she and her family are being treated like terrorists." In fact, after Roy’s death, the guards at the Green Zone refused to let the family into the hospital in order to claim his body. The indignities that the family has endured in the wake of Roy’s death are many.

We can do something about it. With the help of Morrison Foerster, I’ve established a trust fund for Roy’s family. They sold everything they had in Iraq back in December when they thought they were coming to Virginia. Now, they are running out of money. We desperately need your help.

Donations may be sent to:

Mohammed A. A. A. Family Trust (make out checks or money orders to this name)
C/O Blake Hall
7927 Jones Branch Drive
Suite 3350
McLean, VA 22102

or

Bank of America
3 Dupont Circle NW
Washington, DC 20036
Mohammed A. A. A. Family Trust
Paper/Electronic Routing: 051000017
Wire Routing: 026009593
Account: 435028724399

A support group for the American soldiers killed with Roy can be found on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sinsil-Seven/181921918497606

Blake Hall is a former army captain and a member of the army Rangers. He led a scout platoon in Iraq from July 2006 to September 2007. His military awards include two bronze stars with one "V" device for valor in combat. He graduated from Harvard Business School and co-founded TroopSwap, a platform for the military community.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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