Mohammed Bouziane is a mountain of a man. Standing 6 foot 6 inches tall he can intimidate anyone, and yet it was the Moroccan native's soft spoken skills that made the Navy choose him for a recent Secretary of State-ordered medical evacuation mission.
Navy Petty Officer Second Class Bouziane's command, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, asked him to travel to Libya and translate, in Arabic, for 22 Libyans needing medical attention and evacuation.
Bouziane was born and raised in Oujda, Morocco, where he lived until he was 20-years-old before moving to Belgium and then eventually San Diego, Calif. In Morocco, he grew up speaking French and Maghrebi, a distinct dialect of Arabic that is spoken only from Morocco to Libya.
His Maghrebi fluency would come in handy and change the dynamic of the next few days for him.
"It was a great and exciting feeling to be asked to help support this mission," said Bouziane. "To know we're doing something positive - it's just really wonderful."
Bouziane's fluency in Maghrebi helped ease the patients on the long flight from Tripoli to Boston. His appearance helped the patients trust him, and that was his mission – to make these 22 patients who had just survived a revolution finally feel safe.
They trusted him because he deserved it.
"He's one of the best Sailors I've worked with," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Gilbert Valenzuela, Bouziane's departmental leading chief. "I couldn't be more proud of what he's able to bring to the mission. It's not every day you get asked to do something like this."
Back home, Bouziane's family was none the wiser to their Sailor's international impact, and as many in the service will tell you, sometimes that's all the families can ever know.
How do you tell your newlywed wife (he's only been married a year and a half) and nine-month-old son that you're leaving, but can't tell them where you're going, what you're going to do or even when you'll be back?
"My wife was a bit surprised and a little bit worried," said Bouziane. "I told her when we reported here that it was an operational command and things like this would happen."
On 27 October, U.S. Africa Command formally requested three interpreters. Bouziane's name immediately came up because he had recently spent the last month in Vicenza, Italy, supporting a joint task force where several of his supervisors found out that he spoke Maghrebi.
Bouziane has also served as an interpreter two separate times in his career.
The first time was for the USS Ogden (LPD 5) supporting a task force in the Arabian Sea.
The second time Bouziane was again part of a task force, only this time, he was on the ground in Iraq, where he collected and translated various documents with a small team travelling throughout the country.
"I'm proud to be part of missions like these, and extremely proud to represent the U.S. as a Moroccan-American," said Bouziane.
In Post-Qadhafi Libya, the Transitional National Council is in the beginning phase of establishing a new government. The recent fighting has resulted in significant casualties and an escalating humanitarian crisis in Libya. On 29 October, at the request of the Department of State and directed by the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. military transported 22 wounded Libyans for treatment in medical facilities in Europe
and the United States.
At 4 p.m. the next afternoon Bouziane arrived in Ramstein, Germany, after the first leg of his flight. Lieutenant Colonel David Konop, the U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs Officer, met him on the flight line to deliver two pieces of bad news.
The flight was being manifested at 2 a.m. and the final destination was Boston – not Ramstein as initially planned.
After a short two-hour plane ride, the Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft landed in Libya around 8:30 a.m. where they picked up their patients.
Bouziane accompanied the doctor and translated for him during the check-ups he performed during the flight.
"Bouziane was a critical member of the evacuation team. He not only assisted the patients by explaining to the evacuation team what specifically was causing pain, he also provided additional comfort to those patients who could not speak English," said Konop. "Many of the patients relaxed once they saw Bouziane and found out he too was from Northern Africa and spoke Arabic."
For many of the Libyans, this was the first time they had been on an airplane and their first question to Bouziane was, "Can we smoke?"
His answer was very fitting. "No, you can't smoke on this flight or any other. Sorry."
The patients' endless questions never tested Bouziane, whose towering body was matched by his endless patience.
The flight arrived in Boston, and it was then that Bouziane was finally able to tell his wife what he had been doing. Her reaction when he finally called?
"Can I come to Boston too?"
To top it all off, it was snowing and Halloween night in Boston.
"I can't image what the Libyans were thinking as we were driving from the airport to the hospital. All these crazy people dressed up, the snow; everything must have been mind-boggling," said Bouziane.
Bouziane explained his trip by saying, "Well, it's been an interesting trip. You see, most of these guys consider themselves fighters and now they may not have to fight anymore. If I could sum this up, I would have to say it was an exciting adventure and I was very happy to help out."