Thursday, June 21, 2007

Farid Elazzouzi dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

When the 14-hour-a-day menial job got to Spc. Farid Elazzouzi, he looked to the Army for a better opportunity at realizing the American dream.

The recent Paterson transplant was strong and fit. The military could help improve his English, Elazzouzi believed. A steady salary would benefit his family back in Oujda, Morocco.

On June 14, Elazzouzi's hopes were dashed when an improvised explosive device ripped through his Humvee in the northern Iraq town of Kirkuk. Elazzouzi was 26 years old and in three months, his military tour was scheduled to end.

Two other soldiers in Elazzouzi's unit were also killed by the IED that detonated that day in Kirkuk, according to information released Wednesday by the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, news of Elazzouzi's death circulated about South Paterson, where he lived briefly. Several residents said they could relate to his story -- the immigrant whose desires for something better drove him to leave his family.

"A lot of young kids do the same thing," said Khoed Mahmmoud, 39, who also left Morocco for Paterson two years ago. "Even if he wasn't from my country, it's sad what happened to him."

According to the Pentagon, Elazzouzi was born in Morocco. His father died, leaving behind his mother and older siblings. His mother now lives in Oujda, a city of 342,000, near the Algerian border.

Elazzouzi graduated high school and spoke some English, according to those who knew him in Paterson. He idolized fast cars and the material comforts of life in the United States, but his family in Morocco struggled financially. Elazzouzi managed to win a green card from an annual lottery in Morocco and decided to leave home, said Youssef Douaoula, the owner of Casablanca Grocery -- a hub for Moroccans on Main Street in Paterson.

About two years ago, Elazzouzi arrived in Paterson with a friend during the winter, remembered Abdalilah Louhab, another Paterson acquaintance. Elazzouzi moved to a Getty Avenue apartment with several roommates, whom he knew well from Morocco. He started working as a busboy at Alkhayam, a local restaurant.

Though he loved America, the job quickly wore on him. "He was working from 9 o'clock in the morning until 11 p.m.," said Louhab, 27, a barber. "It was hard on him."

Elazzouzi sought advice from Louhab and other local Moroccans, part of a small enclave in Paterson that number about 115, according to the 2000 Cenus. One of his friends helped him open a bank account, where he managed to sock away a few thousand dollars. Several acquaintances told him to apply to Passaic County Community College. And one of his first questions, Douaoula remembers, was about finding a gym.

Tall and well-built, Elazzouzi eventually decided to capitalize on his brawn. When a Moroccan veteran told him about the Army, Elazzouzi enlisted in the Army in 2005, Douaoula said.

Elazzouzi served in the 25th Infantry Division, based at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He took basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., the Army's largest facility for recruits. His unit, the 3rd Brigade Infantry Combat Team, deployed to Iraq in July 2006 for a one-year tour.

He came home to Paterson for two visits, friends remember. Douaoula chatted with him on-line. Sometimes, Elazzouzi complained about his military salary.

Eight days ago, Elazzouzi boarded a Humvee together with Sgt. Derek T. Roberts, 24, of Gold River, Calif. and Spc. Val J. Borm, 21, of Sidney, Neb. The unit drove through Kirkuk, a city 140 miles north of Baghdad.

All three soldiers died when the IED exploded. Their company was set to return to the U.S. in July, but the tour had been extended by three months.

After Elazzouzi was killed, Army representatives came to inform his roommates and asked about how to locate his mother, friends said. Army officials finally reached Elazzouzi's family in Morocco five days after he died, according to John Reese, a 25th Infantry Division spokesman.

The military does not release information about burial arrangements for soldiers. Reese said that if their loved ones chose to, the bodies of foreign-born soldiers are returned to their home countries.

Nearly 70,000 of the U.S. military's 1.4 million soldiers were immigrants in 2004, according to the most recent Pentagon statistics. They constitute about 5 percent of the total military force. Elazzouzi's death shocked his friend Louhab when he learned about what had happened last week in Iraq. He also felt empathy for the soldier's loved ones in Morocco.

"His poor family," Louhab said. "He was just trying to support them."

From the Herald News