ABOARD USS KEARSARGE -- When the young machine gunner from Weapons Company found out he was going to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to conduct security training with Saudi military forces, a thought flashed though his mind, if only for a moment. But what were the chances? He didn't even know if he was still alive.
So as quickly as the notion appeared, it vanished, and 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Jonathan M. Almansur turned his attention back to his mission at hand, preparing for the coming training. Over the following days, he gave little more thought to being reunited with the father he had not seen since he was four-years-old.
"I thought of it like hitting the lottery," said the Savannah, Ga., native. "In the back of my mind, I wanted it to happen, but never actually thought it would."
At that point, Almansur knew very little about his father. He knew he came to the United States to study electronic engineering at Savannah State University where he met and married his mother. He knew he moved backed to Saudi Arabia after his education Visa expired and his parents divorced.
He also knew his father was a Saudi military officer at one time. What he did not know was how far these bits of information would go to make possible the reunion he never believed would happen.
Assigned to Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), Almansur was one of approximately 200 Marines and Sailors from the 26th MEU (SOC) who deployed into Saudi Arabia in June. Their mission was to conduct a one-month series of training events aimed at increasing the cohesive effectiveness of U.S. and Saudi Marines.
After Almansur arrived however, he quickly learned that his last name, clearly displayed on his nametag, and strong Saudi physical traits were stirring up curiosity among the host military officers.
During a weapons display one morning, Almansur said he was bombarded with more questions about his background and his father than he was about his M2 .50 caliber machine gun displayed if front of him.
Without any current knowledge of his father, Almasur continued to answer with what he knew. He thought all the questions were simply out of curiosity and did not believe anything would come of the situation.
It was not until Almansur was introduced to the chief of naval operations, Admiral Fahd Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammed, that he realized the reunion was not only possible, but also imminent.
The admiral, who is also a Saudi prince, asked Alamansur if he would like to meet his father. "I said 'yes I would' and he said 'it will be done, '" Almansur said. "At that point I believed it would happen,' he said.
It turned out that his father, Abdulrahman D. Al-Mansur, lived very near to where the Marines were training. After a few phone calls and coordination on both sides, the meeting was arranged at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel.
As the reunion approached, Almansur wondered what he would say to his father as a wave of emotions came over him. He had already called his wife and told her what was happening.
"She was worried. She told me it might not turn out the way I want it to. I told her I am not expecting anything... that way I won't be let down," he said.
Among his emotions were anger and resentment, he said. He could not get the notion out of his head that his father had abandoned him and his mother all those years ago, he said.
But after they met, the anger subsided and was replaced by understanding.
"I learned that things were out of his control," he said. "I tried to look at things through his eyes - how hard it must have been for him to leave a son."
Almansur accompanied his father to his home where he found out he had eight siblings. He said the language barrier made the introduction a little awkward, but he soon built a bond with his brothers and sisters. "I went from one little brother in the United States to eight more brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia," he said.
He was surprised to see that things were not as different as he expected at his father's home. "My brothers and sisters were on the floor playing Play Station II and there was a basketball goal in the back yard," he said.
The best part of the reunion, Almansur said, was being able to talk with his father and finally let go of the resentment that stemmed from the unanswered questions that had lingered in his mind all his life. "Now I know all the things I didn't before," he said.
He called his mother in Georgia from his father's home and told her what was happening. "She cried happy tears and told me she was very happy for me," he said.
It was an ironic ending to what has already been a year of ups and downs for Almansur. His wife of three years is due in September with their first child, a son. His stepfather who raised him, the only man he has ever called "Dad," passed away in March from a heart attack, and finally, there was this unexpected reunion with his father.
Shortly after the reunion, Almansur was back aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) where he tried to make sense of it all. He summed it up the only way he knew how.
"Somebody up top is looking out for us all," he said. "God works in mysterious ways."
He said he felt privileged that the Saudi officials and his command went to such lengths to arrange the reunion. He plans to stay in touch with his newfound family with letters and emails over the Internet.
Almansur, with the rest of the 2,200 Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU (SOC) continue their primary mission as the theater reserve for Central Command.
To learn more about the 26th MEU (SOC), log on to www.usmc/26thmeu.