Ziad Al Omar was born and raised in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime. He immigrated to the United States in August of 2016. By May of 2017, he was working for DK Security in Lansing. Mr. Al Omar’s story of belief and perseverance is inspiring. His journey to the U.S. came with many hardships along the way. He is humbled and grateful for the opportunities he has been given. He is an exceptional officer with a kind heart and a warm smile. With admiration and thankfulness, we are proud to feature him in our newest DK Spotlight post.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity. It was conducted by DK Security’s Johnny Kendall, Director of Marketing & Business Development, and Lori Gaier, Marketing & Communications Manager.
Before DK Security, could you talk about your early years?
Thank you for this opportunity to share with you my life and how I got here. I’m so thankful for the U.S. Mission in Iraq. My hero, George W Bush, gave me my freedom and crushed the terrorist regime and dictatorship. At the first hours of the United States Army entry in Iraq and Baghdad, I was one of the people who took the flowers and we would wave our hands. Then I had the chance to join the U.S. Mission in Iraq in July of 2003.
What was life like before 2003?
It was horrible. I lived under the pressure of Sadam’s regime, which was a bad security situation for my family. I came from a very rich family that was crushed by Saddam’s regime, specifically Saddam’s son, Uday. After the United Nations Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, Uday went after my father’s large leather factory in Baghdad. My father refused to do what the regime wanted him to do. Uday sent someone to threaten my father when he kept refusing to give them any chance for help. They ended up taking everything from my father – his fortune and his family. They had no legal authority to do that.
My father went to the Minister of Religious Affairs for help, but there was nothing he could do. After that meeting, my father came home and told my mother about this and she told him that everything would be okay. She then went to grab a cup of coffee and all of a sudden, she heard him drop to the ground. She ran to the bedroom and found him dying. She asked the neighbors to take him to the hospital, but it was too late. He died of a heart attack, which was in January of 1997.
I didn’t find out about my father’s death until I returned home from college. I then spent five and a half months hiding at different friends’ houses because Saddam’s regime was notified about me being back home and my life was endangered. If I was found, I would be done. The Iraqi Army services sent me out of the city and I spent 7 months in jail. Sleeping on the concrete. They called me a traitor against the regime because we didn’t follow the instructions.
What did you do when you finally got out of jail?
I was with the Iraqi Army for a year and a half and I got out in April of 2001. After I got out, I was a taxi driver. The government wouldn’t allow me to do anything else. When the U.S. Mission entered Iraq, everybody was allowed to join. It was all about freedom and openness to everybody. The Iraqi government wanted them to fail because it was against the terrorist government. There were a lot of things that were trying to stop the mission including Iranian Terrorist Militias.
Could you talk more about the U.S. Missions and what it was like when you joined?
It was the great U.S. Mission in Iraq. You cannot imagine what real freedom means unless you are away from it. You’re in a “can” for 35 years and you have no authority to talk, to give your opinion, or to breathe unless you get the Iraqi boss party’s permission or you become an Iraqi boss party member. Sometimes I came in contact with people that believed in the terrorist idea and sometimes they would say “oh it’s because you work with the Americans and get a salary,” but I say that the Americans will teach me. No, they’re not here to take oil and steal. The U.S. believed in freedom. It was such a great benefit with the U.S. Missions. I tried to convince people to join because we needed help from the United States. We needed good hospitals, schools, and good life opportunities for our children and our future. Some of them started to listen to me and they eventually joined. I helped them find jobs with U.S. Missions.
The U.S. Missions allowed you to connect with the U.S. Corps of Engineers?
Yes. I worked with RTI July 2003 to May 2004 and then I went to Iraqi Foreign Affairs and joined WWLR (Worldwide Language Resources), an American company providing interpreters. I was an interpreter in the international zone in Baghdad, which interpreters working for the U.S. were considered traitors by the regime. It was a great program given to the Iraqi Minister of Defense. Then I worked with the U.S. Corp of Engineers as a Quality Control Representative for construction projects with the Iraqi Government. We built a lot of buildings, facilities, and Army bases and we had the best specifications in the world. We could not have gotten these high-quality projects without the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One of the bigger projects was the 3rd Brigade bases. A huge base that cost more than 84 million dollars and I was at the head of the project. It was built in an area that used to be run by terrorists.
How did you get to the point to lead a project of that size?
I was trained so well by the U.S. Corp of Engineers, and it helped that I was a fast learner. I was in QA (Quality Assurance), then Project Engineer, then QA Manager. I had so much training with OSHA. I was with them for almost 5 years. We recruited a lot of people from the public each day and I had over 300 people from that area working on the base. That was my biggest benefit was convincing the people to like the U.S. Army. I wanted to contribute to fill that gap between the U.S. Government and the Iraqi people and to not have them listen to the terrorists in the area.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges you may have faced while working for the U.S. Government?
My way was full of challenges. The first time the terrorist regime tried to kill me was in 2006. At the time, there was a civil war in Iraq with car bombs everywhere and the police were shooting a lot of people.
They entered my home in October of 2006 and that was the most dangerous because I was stuck in my home with my family members. My mother, my brother, his family, and my other brother were in the house. It was a life or death situation. It was during Ramadan and I had just entered my home 15 minutes before the sun came out and we were about ready to eat. I started to take my suit off and I went to my bathroom to take some medicine. All of a sudden, I heard shooting. For a couple of seconds, I thought it was just an explosion. Seven people entered our home and were shooting at us and shouting. They were Al Qaeda. I grabbed my brother and he said that it’s an attack on our home. I grabbed my father’s rifle that had a lot of dust on it. I loaded it up, ran to the kitchen and the door was open. You could see the guest room and living room from my kitchen. I was getting shot at from every window. My mother was inside and my brother’s kids were only 10 feet away. I really thought they had us. I shot the lights out and I saw two guys shooting at me with an MP5 and they were almost hitting my head. I found the third guy. There was a steel door near the kitchen with some glass near the top. The glass was broken and there was a guy shooting through that window. I thought they would kill me before I could see him, but I found him catching the locks, so I jumped in the kitchen and started shooting back. The rest of them took cover and kept shooting, but I gained more control. I went to the corridor as they were still shooting inside my house. I was hiding in that area for about 6 minutes and I went through about 3 magazines. They eventually left. They had three vehicles, but I could really only see one since I was so busy shooting at them through the windows. It was a big insult in my ex culture to work with the Americans and they were trying to kill me for it.
My brother called the police and I called the U.S. Army. The police showed up about 45 minutes afterward. They were investigating me and asking me who I worked for. I told them I was a taxi cab driver, but they said that all the bullets meant that I had to be working for someone. I said no. I couldn’t tell them because the police belonged to the Jaysh Al-Mahdi militia. I couldn’t tell them I was with the U.S. Mission. They already had a lot of fights with the U.S. Army and I would become a wanted man. I had to act as if I didn’t know anything about U.S. Missions and they couldn’t know who we worked for. So, the police eventually left. The U.S. Army eventually came with three Humvees. That was the first time I felt safe. You never know who might be corrupt in Iraq, but the U.S. Army could be trusted.
That day, everyone in my family left the house. I was the last one to leave because I wanted to make sure my mother had a safe place to stay. I got a call from my commander letting me know that I could live on the base. Two weeks later, I got a call from my neighbors saying they had entered my home, they burned my home and wrote ‘“traitors” on my door. I’m glad that we had left that night.
In early 2007, they tried to kill me again. Three times they tried. Those were the hardest of times. I lived at the base, but I needed to visit my wife at the time as well. So, I was leaving like every two weeks or every month to go see her. Al Qaeda tried to stop me in my car, but I had experience with recognizing things seconds before they would happen. I quickly reversed my car and they started shooting at me and I changed my route. They knew my face, but I was changing my car every six months. I couldn’t go back to that neighborhood because it was not safe for me or my wife.
At what point did you move to the United States?
My lieutenant colonel asked me one day if I had applied for a Visa and I told them my brother was the one who had applied. U.S. Foreign Affairs wanted to ask me some questions to verify some things. After going through that, my brother got his Visa. At that time, I had to stay and continue the U.S. Mission.
I eventually applied for the Special Immigrant Visa program which is given from the U.S. Congress to the people who work and support the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. It took a while to get it, but then I just went through the process and it took 4 years to go through that process. I entered the U.S. on August 2 of 2016.
Did your brother move to Lansing and is that how you ended up here in Michigan?
Yes, I used him as a sponsor to come to Lansing.
What do you like about living in Michigan?
I like everything. It’s beautiful. People are so friendly and welcoming. Strangers are welcoming. I never have had any problems with anybody here.
What was your first job in the states?
My first real job in the states was at DK Security.
How did you discover DK?
By reputation. I heard about DK Security and I was interested in the job and it met my interest and goals. I am very proud that I became a part of DK.
What aspects of DK Security do you appreciate?
It’s a new experience. Great experience. Working with the Army gave me a lot of security experience, but at DK it’s a different experience. Every day is a great day. I really like the other DK employees, especially my supervisor, Sue. She is a lovely supervisor. So professional. When she trains somebody, she never forgets anything. She knows how to deal with every situation. She’s a great team player. She’s got a great attitude and she’s doing a great job. I’ve dealt with many supervisors in my many different experiences and Sue is the best one I’ve had.
Where does your positivity and politeness come from?
It has come from what I see here at the site that I work at for DK. I welcome people, I meet them with love. Not trying to act. Sometimes you see fake smiles. I smile from my heart. I treat people with love and it’s real love from my heart. There are a lot of guests that come through every day and they give me a lot of compliments and they thank me, but I just love the people here. They’re so professional. I am representing my company and the client.
Have you always had this mindset growing up? Or were there certain experiences that shaped you into who you are today?
I have always been like that. I just love people.
Well, we love you too! I know the client has appreciated the work that you’ve done, and you have even been recognized as a DK Outstanding Performer, which was very much deserved. Thank you again for opening up with us, we are very grateful to have you here at DK Security.
To learn more about the Iraqi Civil War, please visit: https://www.usip.org/publications/2019/07/iraq-timeline-2003-war