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Veterans BJC Connection

Veterans

The BJC Veterans Connection group brings together BJC team members who have served and are currently serving our country, as well as all team members who want to show their support. The group volunteers in the community together and celebrates Veterans Day as a community each November.

Mike Kelly

Mike Kelly

David Rogers

David Rogers

Cathy Wagner

Cathy Wagner

Donna Walton

Donna Walton

BJC Veterans Connection co-leads:

  • Dave Rogers, performance improvement consultant, supply chain, BJC HealthCare
  • Cathy Wagner, manager, cardiology and surgical services, Alton Memorial Hospital
  • Donna Walton, executive assistant, operational excellence, CCE, transformation support, BJC HealthCare

BJC Veterans Connection executive sponsor:

  • Mike Kelly, vice president, operations, Missouri Baptist Medical Center

To learn more about the BJC Veterans Connection Group, please email us

Related News

BJC language services interpreter honored for his service to the U.S. Army in Iraq
/ Categories: Veterans Connection
Oct 2021

BJC language services interpreter honored for his service to the U.S. Army in Iraq

RSVP for virtual Veterans Day celebration by Oct. 29

In 2003, life was good for Mustafa Saleh. He was married to the love of his life, had four beautiful children and was running a furniture shop in Baghdad that he had inherited from his father. His shop was a short distance from Firdos Square, where Iraqi civilians and the U.S. military toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in April of that year.

One day when Saleh was taking a typical tea break in front of his shop, he witnessed a small group of  U.S. soldiers trying to handcuff a young Iraqi teenager as the teen shouted, “Leave me alone. I’m trying to help you.” An angry crowd gathered around them, demanding to know what the young man had done wrong. The soldiers couldn’t understand the teenager or the crowd, and neither could they understand the soldiers.

Saleh studied English from first grade through high school in Baghdad, then another four years in a college in Mosul where he earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. He quickly resolved the situation between the soldiers and the crowd. The soldiers told Saleh the teenager had been apprehended for tailing them for more than an hour. The teenager told Saleh that it was true. His father wanted him to ask the soldiers if they wanted a shower and some lunch. According to Saleh, a shower in hot and stifling Baghdad is a big deal. The father was being nice.  

It was the first time Saleh had acted as an interpreter between his neighbors and the U.S. military. The captain of the soldiers was so impressed he offered Saleh a job. At the time, Saleh thought to himself, “Why would I want to take that job? I have my own business and I’m doing well financially.” But after he learned the job would pay twice what he was then earning, he accepted.

Saleh began his career as a linguist for the U.S. military in 2004. He worked the next seven years primarily as an interpreter between the U.S. Army and Iraqi Army. Saleh’s official title was “Arabic-Kurdish Interpreter.” In Iraq, 70-75% of the people speak Arabic while about 20% speak Kurdish. Though Saleh was born and raised in Baghdad, he learned to speak Kurdish from his parents. Being fluent in English, Arabic and Kurdish was critical to military meetings between the armies of the U.S. and Iraq, the latter split between Arabic- and Kurdish-speaking soldiers.

Saleh was also known as the “local interpreter.” The U.S. military hired other Arabic-speaking linguists from Sudan, Egypt, Morocco and other countries, but Iraqi soldiers preferred someone who spoke exactly the way they did, with the same accents and dialects. In addition, having more than one interpreter in the room could be confusing. That’s why Saleh was always in high demand.   

“I never dreamed of leaving Iraq,” Saleh said. “I had spent all of my life in one neighborhood in Baghdad and never imagined that anyone would hurt me.”

But shortly after the war in Iraq was nearing its end, it wasn’t safe for Saleh to travel from his home to the U.S. military base. Interpreters like him were being kidnapped, tortured and killed by enemy forces to acquire valuable intelligence on U.S. military operations. So Saleh left for the north of Iraq to live among the Kurds, who supported U.S.-led coalition forces during the war.

Around 2008, then-President Barack Obama issued a special immigration visa, giving Iraqi war interpreters an opportunity to come to America. Several of Saleh’s colleagues took advantage of the offer and told him how wonderful life was in the U.S.

“They told me how easy it was to get a job, buy a car and a house,” Saleh said. “I didn’t believe them at first. I asked them if they were telling me the truth.”

It was a U.S. Army major and friend who convinced Saleh to apply for the special visa. In 2009, Saleh and his family came to America. They ended up in St. Louis thanks to an Iraqi-American interpreter living in High Ridge, Missouri, whom Saleh befriended during the war.  

Six months after his arrival in St. Louis, Saleh landed a job as an interpreter with the International Language Center and, shortly after that, secured a position with LAMP – Language Access Metropolitan Program. Places for People, a non-profit agency, also offered Saleh a job as an interpreter to help immigrants and refugees arriving in St. Louis.

“When I applied for a mortgage on a new home, I brought along three W-2 forms,” said Saleh.

As a LAMP interpreter, Saleh started to provide services to BJC on an as-needed basis, and soon secured a full-time position with BJC in 2012.

Along with his language skills, Saleh has an expertise in helping newcomers to America adjust to the many challenges they face living in a different country and culture. He considers himself fortunate to have spent seven years with U.S. soldiers in Iraq, exposed to their beliefs, political views, history, geography, food and customs before coming to America.

Saleh said he knew about Walmart and Walgreens and many other things about America that made his transition from Iraq easier than that of new arrivals facing language and cultural barriers.

“There are many challenges newcomers face in coming to America,” Saleh said. “There is another ocean they have to cross besides the Atlantic. It’s called culture.”

“We are proud of Mustafa’s service to the U.S. military in Iraq and are honored to have someone with his experience and expertise on board to help those new to our culture and language to receive the best care possible at BJC,” said Zlatica Korkaric, BJC language services supervisor.  

Thanking BJC’s health care heroes for their military service

UPDATE: The RSVP window has closed, but all team members can still join the event at www.BJC.org/ConnectionsEvents from noon-1 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 11. Team members who RSVP’d for the celebration will receive additional details about joining the event and local recognition activities. If you didn’t RSVP, you are still welcome to tune in to the virtual celebration. If you are a veteran or current service member who missed the RSVP deadline, please email [email protected].

All BJC team members are invited to join the BJC Veterans Connection group in a virtual Veterans Day celebration to honor military veterans and current service members from noon-1 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 11. Each hospital and service organization will also thank veterans locally.

RSVP for the celebration by Oct. 29. Registrants will receive details about how to join the virtual celebration closer to the event date. BJC team members can access the RSVP link from any device and will need to log in with their BJC network ID and password (and Duo, if off the network). Please note: You must obtain approval from your direct manager or supervisor before RSVP’ing for the event.

If you are a military veteran or a current service member and are unable to attend the virtual celebration, use the RSVP form to share your contact information so you can receive details about how your hospital or service organization will honor veterans Nov. 11. You can also opt in to receive emails about future BJC Veterans Connection news and events.

Learn more about the BJC Veterans Connection group.

Celebrate military heroes

All team members can honor their family members and friends who served or currently serve in the military by posting a photo or tribute message in the Veterans Connection Yammer community. Show your support by Nov. 11, and you could receive a token of thanks! (Duo needed if off the network).

Photo caption: BJC language services employee Mustafa Saleh and his wife, Amal, visit a landmark in their new country.

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