A U.S. Army combat veteran and an Iraqi immigrant find common ground (and good falafel)

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Karina Bland Arizona Republic
Eric Jackson on duty in Iraq in 2003.
Courtesy of Eric Jackson
Only two people had signed up for the two-hour concealed carry permit course at Arizona Home Defense, my cousin Virgil Bland’s business.

The men sat side-by-side at the front of the classroom.

Virgil, the teacher, introduced himself as a former Marine who served for four years.

Eric Jackson was in the military, in the Army and now the Army Air National Guard. He served two tours in Iraq.

Samuel Pataq told them that he was from Iraq.

Samuel had grown up in Karkosh, a small city with the largest concentration of Christians in Iraq. Islam is the country’s official religion.

He had left in 1996, at 24, just before he would have graduated from college, so he wouldn’t be forced into the military. He went to live with an uncle in Detroit.

Eric had been in Karkosh.

He had deployed to Iraq in the spring of 2003 with the 101st Airborne Division, which made its way from Kuwait north to Mosul. The soldiers had been told Karkosh was a peaceful town. They confirmed it.

Eric Jackson (front row, far right) with his unit in Iraq in 2003.
Courtesy of Eric Jackson

During the Oct. 10 class, Samuel turned in his chair and thanked Eric for protecting his hometown.

Eric was surprised and overwhelmed.

Later, Samuel, a real estate investor who moved to Arizona with his wife in 2012, would say he was overwhelmed, too.

“These are people who went over there to protect the people and promote democracy. We really appreciate that,” Samuel said.

For Eric, who is 35 and a medical technician, it settled his mind.

“You hear people’s thoughts about our presence there,” Eric said.

“If we can just help people, it is worth it, so that just validates for me that it was worth it to be there.”

But the men didn’t say those things in that moment.

Instead, Eric asked where in Phoenix to find the falafel he’d eaten in Iraq. Samuel recommended Caroun Restaurant.

Eric has been twice already.