The German who fought for America -- and peace

Der Spiegel tells the story of a German youth who grew up hating America, but who took a remarkable path to serving in the US Army and almost losing his life in Iraq. Jeffrey Jamaleldine took a bullet to the face and will require a number of reconstructive surgeries to return to normal. That has not dimmed his conviction that peace must be won, not dreamed:

Berlin-born Jeffrey Jamaleldine wanted to do something about terrorism in the world and so he joined the US Army to fight in Iraq. Now he’s back in Bavaria, his face nearly destroyed by a bullet — but he’s still convinced that it is his calling to fight for peace. …

Jamaleldine doesn’t even crack a smile when he talks about how, in 1991, he joined in anti-American protests on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm boulevard during Operation Desert Storm. “That was the way it was back then,” he says. He was 15 and “America was simply the enemy.”

It took a full 14 years before Jamaleldine finally — and radically — changed his views on the Americans. It was on June 6, 2005, in the middle of the Iraq war, when he showed up at the US Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas, to enlist. His father Bashir told him at the time: “Son, this won’t be a picnic.” …

The father ends up saying: “I am in favor of peace.” To which Jeff responds: “But someone has to achieve that peace.” The father repeats: “I am in favor of peace.”

This only upsets Jeff. Normally he tends to be quiet and calm. But now he raises his voice, his body tenses up and his words become deliberately hurtful: “And what are you doing so that we can have peace? How much longer do you think you’d be sitting around drinking coffee in fancy Berlin cafés if people like me didn’t exist? If there was nobody to make sure you could live in peace? If there was nobody to fight terrorism?”

Jameldine will undergo another surgery to repair the damage to his jaw and teeth. Ullrich Fichtner describes the miracle of Jameldine’s survival after the bullet shattered the teeth and lower jaw on the right side of his face, and exited out behind his left temple. His face looks remarkably normal, Fichtner reports, but the damage to bone, muscle, and nerve has been extensive and will require years of reconstructive surgery to repair.

Nevertheless, Jameldine believes his sacrifice to be necessary, as the argument with his father shows. He saw the horrors of 9/11 being duplicated in the Mediterranean, in places like Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Madrid. European vacillation clearly was not bringing the world any closer to an end to Islamist terrorism, and Jameldine decided that he needed to join the fight to end it. Once in Iraq, though, his personal mission expanded. He wanted to help the Iraqi people to freedom, and tried to do his best to be an ambassador of sorts to the Iraqis while stationed there.

That ended with the Battle of Donkey Island, although only in access. Jameldine got caught in a tough position against an enemy force and attempted to find a better tactical spot when the bullet hit. One of his comrades got him out in time to save his life by breaking a few rules, for which the man later won a medal. Fichtner isn’t kidding when he calls Jameldine’s survival a miracle.

And despite all he’s suffered, he wants to return to active duty when the surgeries finish in 2009. Despite opposition from his wife and father, he feels compelled to fight to end terrorism and to free people from its oppression. It’s a remarkable story that needs to be read in full.