AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
When Staff Sgt. Thabit Jubran was growing up in northern Israel during the Gulf War, he would encounter members of the U.S. Army and Marines stationed with Patriot surface-to-air missiles to defend the area from Iraqi Scud missiles. They would occasionally visit local areas on “COIN” or counterinsurgency missions, arriving in Humvees and visiting with the communities they were protecting to build trust and support with the people living there.
“They would come and give us, water bottles, crackers, [meal, ready to eat] food, a bunch of snacks… things that they probably just didn’t want to eat,” he recollects with a smile. “But their dedication to their mission, and their commitment to protecting our country created this higher calling in my life. I decided when I was done with high school and college that I would go to the U.S. and join the armed forces to serve as a token of tribute and thanksgiving to repay them for their service. As soon as I became a U.S. citizen, I joined the military because I wanted to fulfill that desire in my heart and that higher calling in my life.”
Jubran is now a member of the California Air National Guard deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, with the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. He has deployed to Al Udeid AB once before in 2017, where he did the typical day-to-day security forces task, like guard entry control points, patrol the base and search vehicles. He expected this deployment to look much like his last.
“Upon my arrival, I was told that security forces here lost their linguistics contract,” he said. “Originally, they had four contractors working in the office. I got here the last day of their contracts, so security forces assigned me to the linguistics office.”
Jubran is a certified Arabic linguist. He and one other contracted linguist have been doing the work of four for most of his deployment, during which he has taken about one day off a month – but still ends up back in the office even on those days.
“I've been helping everyone, not just security forces – any agency or squadron you can think of, even the Army, Marines, Navy, special forces and the U.S. Embassy in Qatar,” he noted. “We have established good trust, and based on that the Qatar Emiri Air Force know that whatever I'm asking for is for everyone's benefit. It's always a win-win deal.”
Navigating these meetings where both the Qatari and American forces must find a way to work together, which is not without its challenges. Getting final approvals through QEAF chains of command tends to be a much longer process than it is for American forces when it comes to decision-making. Standard operating procedures can change very rapidly in a deployed environment, and U.S. forces have chains of command that are developed for decision-making at the lowest level possible to meet that demand. As a result, Americans are not used to the extent of the clearance required by QEAF procedures, nor the time it takes to get that clearance.
“I was born in the Middle East, so they love that there’s one of them who cares so much – because I’m very sincere. When they need help, I help them out,” he explained. “I’m an American, my duty is to the U.S. Armed Forces. I wear a uniform, know military orders and understand military standards. At the same time, I’m from their culture, so they perceive me as a military member but also as one of them – not because I’m a certified linguist, but in the sense that I am native to the region.”
Not only does Jubran help navigate situations involving both the U.S. and Qatari forces, he also helps enlisted QEAF members navigate their chain of command.
“I advocate for things they need done with their leadership,” he mentioned. “I’ve helped them with [standing operating procedures], improvements, led investigations, and worked to get approvals. The best stories I would say were every time I went off base for missions. Not many deployed security forces can tell you that they ran a ‘Code 3’ (lights and sirens) off base.”
These unique experiences are just some of the building blocks of Jubran’s relationship with members of the QEAF, ranging from the Al Udeid Air Base General and Qatar Military Police to the QEAF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister.
“I’m thankful to my leadership – in particular my squadron commander, Lt. Col. Kevin Lombardo, as well as Capt. Brett Meece and Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Moody – for empowering me and allowing me to build friendship and business relationships with the Qataris,” he said. “While I was here, they said they’ve had the best relationship with Americans and believe I have helped enhance that relationship tremendously. It is an honor for me to be so central to so many missions and collaborations between our two countries. I definitely believe I have good skill set that has benefited the Air Force tremendously, whether it's from civilian law enforcement or running businesses or being a native linguist.”
As a police officer, someone who works in real estate and a traditional Guardsman, Jubran knows how important it can be to find ways to invest personal time in the local community and to pool knowledge when it can mutually benefit others. He instructed classes for the QEAF for resource protection, riot control and first aid, as well as how to deal with counter-small unmanned aerial system threats. He also arranged a friendly soccer game between the two countries’ security forces teams.
“We won this time, but when I was here in 2017, we lost,” he acknowledged. “I hope to come back again during the World Cup in 2022 and perhaps help retrain more QEAF and QMP in preparation. I have already established these relationships that I believe they can last for a long time. And I know there's going to be a lot of need during that time – I'm thankful for the Qataris for embracing me as one of their own and trusting me.”
Judran has not only worked to build bridges with the Qatar military. He taught an 8-week Arabic language course for over 120 students on base and designed an indoctrination briefing for new security forces members about navigating cultural sensitivities. Using his skills to help have an impact on the squadron and the base long-term is his ultimate goal as he works toward building more resolute partnerships between the two countries.
“I have tried to take ownership of the linguistics program to make it easier for my leadership to accomplish their goals and missions,” he said. “I am thankful for the Qataris that they were able to adapt to our new policies, their chief of staff, the base commander and the ground defense commander in particular. They have seen the reason we ask for things and the reason we demand to do things a certain way, and I believe this transformation is important for the future.”