His voice sounded flat, worn down as he talked on the phone from his Army barracks at Fort Riley, Kan.
He is tired of waiting to become a U.S. citizen.
Julian Polous was born in Mosul, Iraq, graduated from college and learned to speak four languages. But he fled Saddam Hussein’s army and found asylum in the United States.
He got a green card and joined the Army. He served an extended tour in his homeland of Iraq. He earned several medals, including a Purple Heart.
He passed multiple background checks.
Yet the United States is not ready to let him become a U.S. citizen. His application for citizenship has been circling in naturalization purgatory since April 2007, caught in a backlog of FBI name checks.
Under federal law, an application is supposed to be processed within 120 days after authorities interview the applicant. Polous’ interview was in January.
One reason for the delay: The government misplaced some of his records, he said, sending one file to South Korea, another to Detroit.
And, he acknowledged, some of the confusion arises from his name. His full name is Julian Petrous Polous al Matchy. On some documents, he is Polous. On others, Polous al Matchy. And on some, Polousalmatchy. (It took officials at Fort Riley two days last week to confirm to a reporter that he existed.)
But the biggest reason for the delay, he said, is that his records are bogged down in the FBI’s National Name Check Program. The program has become a bottleneck as hundreds of thousands of people wait to be cleared by the FBI.
Still, the technical explanations for the bureaucratic delays puff away like smoke in the case of Spc. Polous, 40, who served in Iraq and – except for 9 feet – nearly gave his life in service to the adopted country he loves.
On Sept. 24, 2007, Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians, and American and Iraqi soldiers gathered for a reconciliatory meeting outside a mosque in Baqouba, Iraq. Polous was there to interpret for his commander, Col. David W. Sutherland of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Just inside the mosque, a suicide bomber blew himself up. Polous and Sutherland were just three steps away.
The blast threw them to the ground, breaking Polous’ ribs and leaving him unconscious. Shrapnel ripped into the bodies of those surrounding the bomber. Twenty-four people were killed and 37 were wounded.
“When I woke up,” Polous said, “I heard screaming and shouting. I saw a body with no legs quite near me. Then I noticed something on me … human flesh … not my own.”
But he kept translating to help direct medical treatment for the wounded. He even extended his tour a few months at the request of Sutherland, who also was injured in the blast.
Sutherland, reached by phone last week at the Pentagon, was clear how he felt about his former interpreter:
“I love Polous. We called him ‘Majit.’ None of the interpreters use their real Iraqi names. We didn’t want anyone knowing he was an American soldier,” so Polous wore civilian garb instead of his uniform. (MORE)