26th MEU Marine serves as ambassador to Afghanistan

22 Dec 2001 | Sgt. Andrew D. Pomykal

Corporal Kristapor Boodaghian scored high on the mechanical portion of the Armed Services Aptitude Battery and even though his recruiter strongly suggested that he accept a position as an aviation mechanic, Boodaghian declared that he had other plans.

"I wanted to be a real Marine...[an infantryman]," the rifleman said.

Boodaghian, while normally assigned to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif., is presently serving as a language interpreter for Kilo Battery, Battalion Landing Team 3/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

He was chosen and deployed here for his ability to speak Farsi, an ancient language widely used in countries that historically belonged to Persia. Boodaghian also speaks Armenian and German fluently.

Kilo Battery was dispatched from the USS Bataan amphibious ready group to provide security for U.S. Department of State personnel and to aid in the reestablishment of the diplomatic mission here.

The 23-year-old of Armenian decent was born in Ahwaz, Iran, and immigrated to the United States in 1996.

"It was hard for Armenians to live in Iran during that time," he said. "We were Christians living in a Muslim country."

Boodaghian vividly remembers Iran's war with Iraq.

"There were alarms going off all the time [to alert residents of air attacks]," he said. "We lived in a house with thick concrete walls and roof, but the missile blasts would frequently break our windows."

Boodaghian's father, a petroleum industry worker, was injured due to the bombing and decided to flee the war-stricken land.

"We went to the U.S. Embassy in Germany to seek asylum," he said. "But the process was taking too long there, so we went to Spain."

It was at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid that Boodaghian saw Marines for the first time.

"They looked squared away and very professional," he said.

After being granted asylum, Boodaghian's father resettled his family amidst a large Armenian community in Glendale, Calif.

He said that he adjusted quickly to his new way of life.

"I went to a technical school in Germany so all my habits were European," he said.

Boodaghian, boasting a 3.7 grade point average, assisted other foreign students with their math and English skills during his senior year and graduated in 1997.

"Armenians are hard working people and have very good minds for business," he said. "We always strive to better ourselves."

After a year of college, he worked briefly as a mechanic for his uncle. Boodaghian enlisted in the Corps September 1999 and spent five months at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego after he broke his wrist during training.

"I wasn't supposed to go for another six months. My recruiter called me one day and asked if I was ready to go," he recalled. "I said absolutely and he picked me up at two in the morning."

Boodaghian is no stranger to Central Asia, after receiving orders to the 1st Marine Division, he was deployed to the Persian Gulf when the USS Cole was struck by terrorists in a Yemenite port.

After the terrorist attacks on the Cole and the events of Sept. 11, he said that several Marines uttered inappropriate comments that were inconsiderate and revealed their ignorance.

"They told me to tell my cousins to knock it off," he said referring to the terrorists and their tragic attacks. "I guess they thought that it would be funny. Evidently their parents didn't do a good job raising them. I suggested that maybe they should read a book or something in order to educate themselves."

Boodaghian has been indispensable to the command element of Kilo Battery, according to Capt. J.P. McDonough, the battery commander.

"He bridged the gap between us and the Afghans. He eliminated a lot of problems [with his ability to communicate] and helped to foster relations," McDonough said.
Boodaghian has interacted considerably with the local population here in the performance of his duties and said that most Afghans "love" that Americans have returned to their country.

The U.S. Embassy was evacuated in January 1989 after the Soviet troop withdrawal and the escalation of tribal warfare here.

"The Afghans are very happy. We are their hope," he said. "Many have been beggars for years and have nothing but the clothes on their backs."

Recently, the multi-ethnic Afghan factions established an interim government with the support of an international coalition.

"[The Afghans say that] this is a new time for them," he said. "They have to catch up economically now."

Boodaghian believes the country can make great strides as a society if it can retool the radically fundamental religious teachings that were forced upon the people by the Taliban.

"They have to be enlightened to a new way of thinking. They haven't had any exposure to anything else," he said. "If we teach the young, it will change for them."

The Camp Pendleton Marine who has been married for three months, said he may seek a position as a linguist with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency or work with the U.S. Immigration Department after his enlistment ends.  For now, however, he will continue fostering new friendships in this war-torn city.