Airman provides gateway for Iraqis to American training

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Larry Schneck
  • 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq Public Affairs
Passport with a visa -- check. Plane ticket with an aisle seat -- check. Luggage with extra socks -- check.

For most foreigners traveling to the U.S., this is all they would need, but for Iraqis seeking a seat inside an American school house, an Airman and an English language proficiency exam are part of their checklists.

"This test is the first step in getting them there," said Tech. Sgt. Fatema Tahan.

She is currently deployed and assigned to the Iraq Security Assistance Mission as the English Language Program test administrator at Forward Operating Base Union III in the International Zone here.

"English language testing is a critical component of the out-of-country training program for Iraq," said Army Lt. Col. Dawn Rodeschin, the ISAM training and travel chief. "The English comprehension level exam must be administered to prospective-training candidates within 105 days of their training start dates in the U.S."

Sergeant Tahan's office is a trailer with individual work stations. She can test up to 20 Iraqis at a time.

"If we had a larger trailer," she emphasizes. "We could do more testing."

In a year, more than 2,400 people pass through Sergeant Tahan's program during 238 sessions. The American Language Course Placement Test and the ECL exam are the two she regularly administers, with the ALCPT alone having 31 different versions.

"Sergeant Tahan is professional in her demeanor with the Iraqi examinees," Colonel Rodeschin said. "She puts them at ease during testing."

Armed with the test results showing a student's proficiency in English, an Iraqi service member or Government of Iraq civilian can attend a course outside the country and receive training.

Most of the time, a prospective student has to reach a minimum score on the tests administered by Sergeant Tahan. Once that hurdle is passed, the person is ready to obtain more intensive English-language training at the Defense Language Institute-San Antonio in Texas. Upon graduation from DLI, with a score of at least 80, students can attend schools, such as the U.S. Army's Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga.

Government of Iraq employees and service members who attend international military education and training courses experience the American way of life, and commitment to democratic ideas, first-hand. Thus, the impact of the Sergeant Tahan's job is seen.

"I'm honored to be part of such a great mission," she exclaimed. "I know what I'm doing will have a tremendous impact on the future of this country's government."

This isn't her first time in the country. Sergeant Tahan has previously deployed to Iraq.

In 2008, she worked at Joint Base Balad, where she was surrounded by nothing but other Airmen. This time she's a member of an integrated, joint-services staff made up of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.

"I had no idea what I was going to be doing until I was in combat Airman skills training," she said. "I felt it would be a new experience, and it has been. I'm experiencing Iraq differently than when I came here last time."

Colonel Rodeschin feels confident in the job Sergeant Tahan is doing.

"She does a superb job managing the overall English language testing program for the entire country," Colonel Rodeschin said. "She supports the efforts in the International Zone and in various locations throughout Iraq."

Ultimately, the English testing program contributes to Iraq's ability to partner with the U.S. military and defend the Iraqi people.

"I make sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to do," Sergeant Tahan said. "I give the Iraqis what they need."

Her family in New York may worry about what she's doing, Sergeant Tahan said. But they are reassured the mission she's doing is making a difference in the future of the young democracy in Iraq.