Kamal AlSawafy was 9 years old when he arrived in Dearborn in 1997. Three years earlier, his family had fled Iraq, where his father, a construction worker, risked imprisonment and torture for his failure to support then-President Saddam Hussein. Now they had been granted refugee status and joined family in Michigan, and AlSawafy was headed off to a new school not knowing a word of English.
“Everything I heard was foreign to me, everything I saw,” he recalls. “Then I remember my teacher hugging me as I walked in. And that’s when I felt my introduction to the United States — that embrace.”
Now I want to work to give back to my community to make sure that foundation is available for the next generation.
Shortly after AlSawafy graduated high school he began giving back to the country that had embraced him. At 19, he took a job as an interpreter with a United States military contractor, and for two years he worked alongside U.S. troops in Iraq — the only person in a 40-man platoon able to communicate with local citizens and tribal leaders. The work was considered mission critical, and it was non-stop.
Fast-forward another decade and AlSawafy is again serving U.S. forces, this time as a platoon leader for the U.S. Army National Guard in Michigan. In the interim, he started his own used car dealership, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, and launched a career as a logistics engineer with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, where he manages a materials supply chain.
“I love it,” he says. “Then one weekend a month I get to do something different.”
For AlSawafy, those weekends with the National Guard represent his call to service, which he says “was really derived from empathy.”
“When my family was torn from our home, we depended on others,” he says. “These are my values, and I believe in them, and I have to be willing to pay a price for those values.”
AlSawafy also raises money for the local VFW, organizes blood drives, and more. “Dearborn gave me a great foundation, he says. “Now I want to work to give back to my community to make sure that foundation is available for the next generation.”