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Kentucky native forms organization for Middle Eastern U.S. translators

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By The Staff

By RACHAEL TOLLIVER

Turret Associate Editor

rachael.tolliver@us.army.mil

How does a Walton, Ky., native end up heading a non-profit group devoted to helping Middle Eastern translators who risked their lives helping U.S. military personnel?

And what does that have to do with Fort Knox?

Pam Dimmerman got there by retiring from federal service after 21 years of working for Kentucky U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning’s office as director of constituent services where she specialized in issues involving military personnel, veterans, and immigration.

Last September, Dimmerman, still in government service, helped cut through a ream of red tape to arrange passage into the U.S for Omar, an Iraqi translator who wanted to come to the states.

A Fort Knox Soldier was his sponsor.

As featured in a September Turret story, Omar’s situation came to  Dimmerman’s attention after retired 1st Sgt. John McFarlane, who now works for Northrop Grumman on Fort Knox as a military trainer, phoned to ask for help. Omar served as McFarlane’s Iraqi interpreter during his 2006 tour in Iraq and was credited by many with saving the life of ABC-TV news anchor Bob Woodruff after their convoy was attacked by insurgents.

Through a special U.S. program, Iraqi interpreters, who are recommended by the U.S. commands they serve, may come to the U.S. to live. Otherwise, experts believe,  the interpreters and their families face violent retaliation and even death by remaining in Iraq.

In Omar’s situation, Dimmerman said she felt a calling.

The reason that interpreters and their military sponsors need the help of someone like Dimmerman is because of the complications involved in obtaining a visa, and the mountain of paperwork required to enter the U.S.

The translators also face the problem of financing the trip to America, along with clothing, food, a place to stay with an address where officials can send them mail or check up on them, and finding a job. The job can’t happen until the paperwork is complete.

Dimmerman finally met Omar at Louisville International Airport as he arrived in the U.S.

Her efforts to form a not-for-profit organization to deal with issues involving immigrant translators took form soon after.

“On Sept.12, the day after Omar entered the United States, an executive of ABC News in New York called me to thank me for the work I had done on (Omar’s) case,” Dimmerman explained.

 “(He) planted the seed in my head that I should start an organization to help our Soldiers with the immigration process for their translators.  His words to me were, ‘Pam, why not?’ 

“I could not come up with one single reason for not letting that thought grow. Especially since Congress also saw the need and passed a law in 2006 that would allow these translators from Iraq and Afghanistan to come into the U.S. as legal permanent resident aliens who could eventually become naturalized citizens … under the Special Immigrant Visa program.”

Omar, who stayed with McFarlane and his family after his arrival in the U.S., is now working on post as an online recruiter, and still has plans to join the U.S. military.

Dimmerman had her organization up and running before her retirement, gaining the support and help of many retired and active duty personnel along the way,  including the organization’s co-founder, John Parker.

“In November, John Parker, a retired (Army) major, e-mailed Omar through the ABC News Web site,” she said.

“Omar replied with my contact information and what he and I had talked about as far as helping others in the same situation that he was in.  John e-mailed me right away and we spoke soon after.”

Parker had just returned from a year in Iraq as an advisor to the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi National Police. His interpreter had contacted him about SIV, but after checking around, Parker couldn’t find any organizations that helped the translators coming to the U.S. under the program. That’s when he emailed Omar.

Dimmerman and Parker eventually met in Washington D.C., along with several other people who included Army Maj. Mike Jason, who was key to locating Omar after he went underground outside Iraq due to threats on his life. The group’s members wanted to discuss starting a non-profit.

They went to New York to visit with “the executive who had become one of my biggest cheerleaders,” said Dimmerman, along with ABC’s Woodruff, to firm up her plans.

Through those meetings, and by brainstorming with her husband, Dimmerman came up with a mission plan and a name for the new organization—Legal Entry for America’s Friends, or LEAF.

“Most often we find it is the Soldier, or groups of Soldiers, that work to support their translators before, during, and after the process of their legal entry into the U.S. with their own money.

 “We also have found that these same Soldiers support the translators by offering them a place to eat, sleep, and live in their own homes until they can become financially independent in America, or until their alien resident cards arrive and they can find work. 

“We hope to relieve those Soldiers of the financial strain this puts on their already limited budgets.”

LEAF International is now incorporated in Kentucky, and even has a fitting address: P.O. Box, 911, Independence, Ky. It also has a three-member board of directors, which includes Dimmerman, an advisory board, and, she said, a motto—“Serving Those who Served US.”

Additionally, the organization is working toward inclusion in the annual Combined Federal Campaign.

But Dimmerman’s retirement plans don’t just stop with the not-for-profit job—she wants to use her specialized skills in other volunteer areas—for example, veterans issues and veterans claims.

 She also plans to assist various service organizations—especially the American Legion where she has been active for several years with her husband, a Vietnam veteran—with those issues.

“I know that I am being used as a tool to help people, and I also know that I would not be in this position if it had not been for the opportunities I have had in working for Senator Bunning,” she explained.

“I know, without a doubt, that I was at the right place at the right time in my life, and that I will do what I do for the right reason.”