Young Iraqi refugee gives back to the U.S. by serving in the military

A young man who fled Iraq with his family years ago, is giving back to America in a big way.

The 19-year-old joined the Army. It took a lot to get to this point, but he's excited for the future and determined to make a better life for his family.

Dressed in army fatigues, Private Linard Ablahad is committed to the country he now calls home.

"Coming to America having safety, better opportunities not only to make your life better but everyone else around you, is big," Ablahad said.

Ablahad grew up in Baghdad, Iraq. Seeing American troops and tanks was a normal part of life, but instead of hating America, he wanted to be a solider.

"As a kid, when I was in Iraq, I’d see these tanks and soldiers moving along and I was like, ‘I wish I was like them,’" Ablahad said.

His family fled to Turkey, where they spent three years.

Ablahad did not go to school during that time, but worked to help out.

Eventually, they made it to America, and then Mesa, where they had family.

"It was really challenging because my English was barely good," Ablahad said.

While in high school, Staff Sergeant Ah-Chi Lao reached out. An immigrant herself, she could relate.

"I told him look, you don't even know what you want to do," Lao said. "You don't know how to start. Let us help you, so that’s how we begin."

Ablahad was thrilled.

"Can I do it? Is it possible?" Ablahad wondered.

Passing an exam to get in was the biggest challenge, but Lao continued to encourage him.

"When I first met him, the first thing he told me, was ‘my English is not that good, please bear with me.’ but I said, I don’t know if you notice my accent, you will be fine," Lao said. "You are fine, I hear you, I understand you. Don’t think of English as an obstacle. You should look at it as a blessing that you know other languages."

His determination combined with that encouragement from Lao as well as his teachers at Mountain View High School led to graduation, and his life that has come full circle.

"Hopefully, make the world a better place by wherever they need us, I’ll be ready," Ablahad said.

Ablahad and his family have green cards, but now he can work towards citizenship.

This Friday, he is off to Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas to serve.