A George Mason University graduate student who grew up in war-torn Iraq has earned a prestigious scholarship honoring military members.
Ali Nayyef was raised in Baghdad, where his father, Amer Nayyef, worked closely with U.S. troops at checkpoints and embassies as an interpreter for the military.
Nayyef said he went everywhere with his father.
“I just remember having a great amount of respect and admiration for what [U.S. troops] did,” Nayyef said. “Not only for their country but for my country as well.”
In January 2008, Amer Nayyef was taking his daughter to school when Al-Qaeda killed him.
“When he lost his life, that really took a toll on myself and my family as well,” Nayyef said.
Nayyef and his family immigrated to the U.S. as refugees in 2010 after reaching out to the soldiers his father worked with.
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“They saw something in me and really took the risk of saying this is somebody who’s worthy of coming to the United States, and worthy to wear the uniform,” he said.
Nayyef was inspired by his father’s work and joined the Virginia National Guard.
He remembered the moment he put on his combat uniform for the first time.
“It was a very proud moment, distinctly remembering looking straight in the mirror and saying ‘This is it. I actually did it,’” he said.
Now, Nayyef has been named a 2018 Pat Tillman Scholar. The Pat Tillman Foundation is named for the former NFL player killed in combat in 2004.
The scholarship helps a select number of military members and spouses with academic expenses.
Nayyef is pursuing his master’s degree in Political Science and hopes to one day earn a doctorate in the same field.