Editor’s note: Coming to America stories are unique to each person who has chosen to make a home in the United States. A National Training Center Soldier, with ties to Armenia and Iran, who came here in the past few years, shares his story below.
His name is not used, because of the changing political situation in the region, where family and friends still live. The 51st TICO is the first of two companies of Soldiers with the 09L Interpreter/Translator military occupational specialty. The company at Fort Irwin is mostly comprised of Soldiers of Middle Eastern and North African heritage and descent.
Born in Tehran to Armenian parents who fled to Tehran after the Iranian revolution in 1979, Spc. B grew up speaking Persian, Dari and Armenian.
“In Tehran, there is an Armenian community,” B said. “We have our own churches, schools. Everything is separated from the Muslims. They don’t come into our community, we don’t go to theirs.”
After completing high school, B, like other young males in Iran, was drafted into the Iranian army for 24 months of mandatory military service.
“As an Iranian-Armenian, I had to serve to get my Iranian passport [and citizenship], but at the same time they told me I couldn’t salute the flag, because I was Armenian,” B explained. “The Iranian flag has ‘Allah’ in the middle, and as a Christian I couldn’t salute the flag.”
B said he was jailed for three months because of his religion.
“It’s for small things, but they make a big deal of it,” B said. “It wasn’t only me. Those with other religions were also punished.”
The discrimination continued after B left the Army and found a job with a food company.
“Being a Christian in a Muslim country, they said I can’t touch their food,” B recalled. “If you touch it, the food won’t be halal (according to Islamic law), so they can’t eat it. One time, an Iranian government food inspector asked me my name. From my name, they understood that I’m a Christian. He told me, you cannot work here.”
In 2007, B was able to move to Australia, where he was granted political refugee status to come to the United States with his wife, also from Armenia. He first worked in construction in the Los Angeles area before finding another job in food processing.
“I didn’t speak English,” B said. “A German guy taught me English. He came to the United States in 1969 and learned English in the street. He taught me English at the same time he was teaching me my job. After six to seven months, I became a manager at the company.”
B joined the Army in 2011.
“It was one of my goals in coming to the United States,” B said. “I always wanted to serve. My wife made me change my mind, but after three, four years, she let me join.”
“I can’t compare this country to others,” B said. “It’s totally different. If you go to jail, the first thing you can do is ask for a lawyer. In Iran, if they take you, no one knows where you’re at. They blindfold you, take you in a dark room, and that’s it. If you’re lucky, you can come out.”