March marks “Women’s History Month,” which celebrates the contributions women have made to our history and culture. I don’t need to read a history book to learn about female heroes. I have one working for me. Her name is Ella Al Malicki and she displayed her bravery as a translator for U.S. troops during the Iraq War.

Ella grew up in Baghdad with her parents and four sisters. She was 15 when the U.S. Army invaded Iraq. She had a front row seat for the bombing of Baghdad. Ella could feel and hear the bombs as they set the city on fire. 

The U.S. didn’t only drop bombs. Helicopters flew over Ella’s house dropping care packages. Ella’s parents were very pro-American. Her father was an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein, who had been forced to flee Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion. 

Like the country itself, Ella’s family was evenly divided between supporting and opposing the American forces. Her uncles offered token resistance by manning an anti-aircraft gun, but the U.S. Army conquered Iraq in 21 days.

Ella and her family fled the fighting and moved to a farm several hours away. They slept on the floor of a shack and fought boredom by playing board games. 

When they returned to Baghdad, looting was rampant. Ella’s parents bought a condo inside the fortified Green Zone. She was 16 when she started working as a server at a Chinese restaurant. The clientele were mostly American soldiers, who were generous with their tips. Besides helping to support her family, the soldiers helped Ella become fluent in English.

This was the only education Ella received, because a car bomb exploded outside her school, injuring students and sending Ella on a frantic search for her sisters. It wasn’t long before another bomb forced the Chinese restaurant to close. 

She found a job with a British company that supplied the U.S. Army. Ella had never seen a computer before but learned how to use software. The company’s project manager was Bruce Boyea. He hired Ella to be his translator and promoted her to office manager. Boyea was demanding but benevolent. He housed Ella and his other female employees. She never returned to her parents’ home. 

She started working for the US Army as a translator. On a mission from Mosul, they were warned of an ambush and made it safely back to the base but Ella became fatalistic. She was certain she was going to die and no longer feared bombings or mortar attacks. But she didn’t die. When she was 18, she moved to the U.S. alone, feeling vulnerable and frightened. 

In her early 20s, she returned to Iraq to again serve as a translator. It was so stressful, though, she was placed on a mandatory leave to rest and relax in the U.S. Now she is an American citizen living in River Grove. She is a criminal justice major at Triton College and her professor, Greg Catena, highly recommended her for my intern position.

I didn’t hire Ella because she’s a hero. She’s a computer whiz who uses social media to find the people we’re trying to locate. She is utterly fearless and isn’t fazed by assignments in rough neighborhoods. 

Ella embodies the spirit of Women’s History Month. She is a strong young woman who refused to accept the limitations of Iraq’s male-dominated society. She risked her life to serve our soldiers. 

While she pursues a career in America, Ella has realized another dream. 

After 11 years of trying, she finally brought her parents to America!  

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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