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Heritage Month: Arab Americans in the Armed Forces

posted on: Apr 7, 2016

BY: Husayn Hosoda/Contributing Writer

Very few groups in the United States are as highly esteemed as those who honorably serve in the armed forces. The U.S. has a long and storied military history, and nearly every demographic has participated in the country’s armed struggles. Arab Americans are no exception, with members of the community serving all the way from World War I up to the present day.

Professor Philip Hitti, in a 1924 Princeton study, found that 13,965 Arab Americans served in the First World War. As many as 15,000 fought in the Second World War, and the numbers serving in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are inestimable. Military experts currently estimate that there are 10,000 Muslims and Arab Americans serving, many of them as linguists.

The most reputable among this community include Harvard-educated, retired General John Abizaid, the son of a Lebanese American Navy machinist, whose 34-year service includes commands in Grenada, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. Abizaid has led companies from the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions, the 504th Infantry Parachute Regiment, and served as Commandant at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Another respected commander is retired General George Joulwan, a 36-year veteran of the conflicts in Vietnam, Panama, and El Salvador. Perhaps his most noteworthy post was his four years as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, in which he conducted over 20 operations in the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East. He is also credited with creating the first strategic policy for US military engagement in Africa.

While these two men held esteemed roles and retired with distinction, perhaps the greatest heroism from the Arab American community was embodied in Master-at-Arms Second Class Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL who, in Ramadi, threw himself onto a live grenade and saved the lives of two of his fellow SEALS. For this, he was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush, which his parents accepted on his behalf. Mansoor is also being honored this year with a Zumwalt-class destroyer to be commissioned that will bear the name USS Michael Monsoor. 

These are some the most well known among the Arab American community’s contributions to the armed forces, with countless others serving every day. It has been acknowledged by some of them that conditions for serving Muslims and Arabs following 9/11 have deteriorated, with many facing prejudice and belittlement in recent years. Yet despite this, they continue to serve honorably, making their families and their community very proud.

See all articles about National Arab American Heritage Month here.