(KMSP) - Mohammed Aqrawi learned how to speak English by watching American action movies and parlayed that into a job interpreting for United States soldiers in Iraq.
But, despite spending eight years helping our military in his native country, it took nearly as long for him to get the green light to relocate here to Minnesota.
"I cannot say how happy I was," Aqrawi said. "For so many years, I waited and waited and waited."
The 32-year-old started working as an interpreter for U.S. Special Forces in Mosul back in 2004, translating Arabic and Kurdish into English.
He risked his life accompanying American soldiers on patrol, dodging sniper fire, improvised explosive devices and car bombs on daily basis.
"I've been hit by 27 IEDs and 11 car bombs through my services with the Army. I got my teeth damaged [and] had braces for a year and a half. My teeth are still not fixed well. Better than nothing," Aqrawi said.
But, when he applied for a special immigrant visa to come to the U.S. in 2009, the U.S. government delayed approving his application for years.
Even though Aqrawi's life was in danger as ISIL forces crept closer and closer to Mosul, it wasn't until earlier this month that he could buy a plane ticket to the U.S. He landed in Minnesota on Christmas Day.
"It was a feeling I couldn't imagine. Like my first step. My first step, the cold wind hit me. I was like 'finally I am in a safe place'," Aqrawi said.
With President-Elect Donald Trump's talk on the campaign trail about banning Muslims from entering the country, Aqrawi says after all he's done for the United States, he's grateful he wasn't left out in the cold.
"I'm happy. Even though they delayed my case, I would still like to thank them. Please don't leave our friends out there in the dangers. Do something about them," Aqrawi said.
In addition to applying for U.S. citizenship, Aqrawi plans to go to back to school.
Despite his visa taking so long, Aqrawi still wants to serve his adopted country by enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserve.