During the Iraq War, Navy SEAL teams were aided by various interpreters hired to go with them on missions and talk to suspected insurgents and families/friends of the those insurgents in their native tongue.
An interpreter to whom SEAL teams gave the name “Johnny Walker” has emerged as the “most trusted” among those who filled this role during the war.
His book, Code Name: Johnny Walker, allows him to chronicle his experience with the SEALs. It shows how loyal Johnny was to the American forces with whom he worked and how they took him in as one of their own as well. It also shows that Johnny’s loyalty to American forces eventually put him and his family in a place where moving to America was the only way to find normalcy after his service.
On April 28th, Bretibart News spoke with Johnny and with SEAL Master Chief (ret.) Lu Lastra about how they were able to form such a bond, considering the religious divide between Islam and Christianity that so often presents itself in the Middle East. Johnny is a Muslim, and the majority of the SEAL team personnel with whom he worked were Christian.
Master Chief Lastra said: “What we needed and understood–and what Johnny understood with us–was that we needed a free Iraq down the line. We could care less who you prayed to or what faction you came from, especially when we worked with the Iraqi Counter Terrorist Forces (ICTF).”
Lastra said the ICTF with whom he worked had sizable contingencies of Sunni and Shia in the same unit. While these two factions within Islam are normally at odds, the members of the ICTF got beyond it because they understood “they were one team and they were fighting to build a new Iraq.”
Lastra said one line in the ICTF’s creed was, “Religion by choice, united as one.”
Johnny said another thing that made the bond possible was the way SEALs worked to assimilate with their Iraqi interpreters and counter-parts.
According to Johnny:
There were a bunch of American chow halls on base. In our compound there was an Iraqi chow hall. [Lu] told his guys, “You have to go to the Iraqi chow hall, eat with your brothers. You guys fight together on the mission, so you should go and eat with them.”
He told them if they ate there and did not like it that was fine, they could come back and eat American food. But they had to go.
From the outside this seems like a small thing, but sometimes a small thing brings big results.
Lastra said it was important to him that his guys not simply carry out the tactical mission but also take the time to understand their Iraqi-counterparts’ “culture and be a part of them.”
Johnny Walker will a guest of honor at the SEAL-NSW Family Foundation’s “Evening to Support Naval Special Warfare, Their Fellow Warriors and Families” on May 3rd. Event information is available here.
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at email@example.com.