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Hanna ... count me in

Another Veterans Day has passed, yet we—the civilian contractors who joined the mission known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)—are still not recognized as veterans.



The President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

GS13 Hanna & Major General Anderson,
US Army

Another Veterans Day has passed, yet we—the civilian contractors who joined the mission known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)—are still not recognized as veterans.

We willingly volunteered to serve our country overseas, endure hardships, and work in hostile environments.
We shared the same Army combat uniform, ditches, military transportation vehicles, rules of engagements, food and drink, and participated in the same missions as the Soldiers we served.
We endured the same amount of risk, have been bruised, shot at, and have even shed our blood. We faced the same possibility of kidnapping and the same dangers of so-called “friendly fire.”
We have shared the same shelters, sleeping “hooches” and tents that were vulnerable to all kinds of enemy fire, including mortars, launched grenades and rockets.
Most of us lived at least three (and some of us five) years in Iraq, separated from the comforts of home and from our family members and loved ones.

Brothers & Sister for Life
(GS13 Hanna, MSG Jackson, & CH COL Ames)

We spent those long days and murky nights under unbelievable pressure every time we heard the siren alerting us to the threat of attack. We will likely never forget two of the most common phrases in our daily life: “incoming” and “duck & cover”, which by repetition became as familiar to us as the Ten Commandments we memorized as youth.

Following are two anecdotes out of the thousands that could be related to show how our brothers and sisters of the US military regarded my fellow contractors and me:

The first occurred one day as I was walking and sharing thoughts in Baghdad’s International Zone (affectionately referred to then as the “Green Zone”) with a high-ranking member of our strategic engagement team. All of a sudden, he stopped, looked at me, and said, “Amer, I would not hesitate to take a bullet for you, anytime!” I was surprised, because I felt that was supposed to be my line! After I regained my composure, I asked, “Why is that, chaplain?” His answer was laden with sincerity and the deep appreciation that can only result from a relationship forged in the fires of danger. He said, “Simply because, you would not hesitate to do so for any member of the team. I’ve been watching you for almost a year, and every word you said, every move you made during our engagements inside the Red Zone, proved to me that although we’ve had our professional soldiers and armed guards to protect us, you were the real protector of the team.” I was almost overcome with emotion, and I will never forget his words.

GS13 Hanna  & CH COL Garrison GZ Baghdad

The second occurred in March 2010, when I was humbled to learn that I had been nominated by my supervisors to receive the 235thArmy Birthday “Strength of the Nation” Award. This strategic, national-level award is given to one “who engages in exemplary public service that makes a substantial contribution in completing the army's mission”. While I did not end up receiving the award, I was nonetheless extremely grateful, honored, and proud to be perhaps the only army civilian contractor nominated for such a high honor in the history of the award.

Most of the DoD contractors who joined the mission in Iraq from an Iraqi background, whether they were Chaldeans (the indigenous people of Iraq), Arabs, Kurds, Mandaeans, Turkmen, or Yazidis, experienced many of the same situations as did the uniformed members of the US Armed Forces. A number of contractors were maimed. Others were viciously killed, leaving behind grieving family members, including even infants and unborn children, as well as other relatives and friends. No doubt, it has been especially difficult for those families whose loved ones were kidnapped and have yet to be recovered.
Then, there are the unseen scars of war. I have to agree with Jose Narosky, an Argentinean writer, who penned the words, “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” While not physically wounded myself during my service as a contractor in Iraq, my fellow contractors and I will always bear the invisible wounds of that conflict, in a manner similar to the U.S. military warriors with whom we served.

GS13 Hanna  Joins prayers with CH LTC Houck before heading to a mission

Mr. President, despite the fact that we were born in Iraq— the place known to many as the “Cradle of Civilization,” we proudly and bravely served our adopted country, the United States of America, the greatest nation on Earth.

We urge you, Mr. President, to look into this matter and have the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Hagel, present you with a brief of all the exceptional accomplishments that contracted linguists, cultural experts, and strategic advisors (like myself) have accomplished to protect the United States of America and further the missions of our great military. We do not ask for the same rights or benefits that our traditional veterans—our uniformed service men and women—have earned. We simply want to be recognized and appreciated for our service and to be included in the collective term “OIF Veterans.”

Though I have served as an army civilian contractor, I have done all I could to assist in completing the Army’s mission, and will continue to do so as long as I live. Then, when I finally do face death’s door, I will proudly die “Army Strong.”

Mr. President, it is time to call us Veterans.



Most Respectfully,

Amer H. Hanna
Visual Artist & Historian
Former Senior Adviser for the Army on Middle East Ethno-religious Affairs
235th Army Birthday, Strength of the Nation Award Nominee

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