12 November 2006
Metransparent has been blessed by its many readers all over the world- more than 40 000 « unique readers » daily. Including about 7000 daily readers in the US and Canada. Our friend Joseph J. Szlavik, a successful businessman who divides his time between DC and New York and London, (unless he is travelling, almost continuously, around the globe) has been among the first readers and supporters of Metransparent since its early start 3 years ago. It was through him that we came to meet another dear friend, « Rudy » Atallah, a US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel born in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut (like the editor of this website). « Rudy » has made every possible effort to support this free and independent website, notwithstanding his heavy duties at the Pentagon. It is to express our gratitude and friendship to Joe Szlavik and Rudy Atallah that we decided to republish the following, which we discovered on the State Dept. Website :
Arab-American Air Force Officer "Cherishes" Right to Vote
Colonel Atallah recalls political chaos during his youth in Lebanon
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rudy Atallah Washington -- Voting as a citizen of the United States is an "honor and privilege" as well as a right that U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rudy Atallah says he never has taken for granted since leaving his native Lebanon to attend the University of Connecticut in the mid-1980s, later becoming a U.S. citizen and combat pilot.
The son of a prominent Beirut physician, Atallah joined the U.S. Air Force after he earned his college degree in 1988. Now, the French-speaking Atallah, who did a stint as U.S. military attache to Côte d'Ivoire, serves in the Department of Defense Office of International Security Affairs with a responsibility for the volatile Horn of Africa region.
Flying a C-141 transport aircraft during the Gulf War in 1991 and later during the 1992-93 U.N.– U.S. humanitarian operation in Somalia drove home the idea, Atallah told the Washington File November 2, that American freedom was not just an abstraction but something worth defending as well as spreading worldwide.
Speaking by phone from his Pentagon office just five days before the U.S. midterm elections, Atallah agreed that many Americans have come to accept freedom and the right to vote as a normal course of events.
"But, I don't take anything for granted," he said.
His home, Beirut, was known as the "Paris of the East" before it was ravaged by fighting from 1975–1990. As a young boy, Atallah said he could hear the sound of bombs as they detonated throughout the city. And he recalled that his father once narrowly escaped death when a massive car bomb destroyed an apartment building where a political meeting was being held.
"When we were in Lebanon we didn't have the freedom and security we have here. And so those freedoms are something we cherish very dearly," he said.
Generally, military officers "like to stay apolitical and focus on their jobs and missions," Atallah explained. "But voting is also a personal thing for me, because I believe strongly in family values and that's where I look at the voting process and look at the candidates very carefully to make my decision."
He added that he, like many other military officers, also paid special attention to the position candidates took on issues such as veterans’ benefits, health care and education.
Atallah says he does not think of himself as an immigrant or, as some have put it, a "hyphenated-American."
"Voting is just something I consider very important for me and my family. It's a must. It's how we teach our daughter -- to look at the voting process; understand what’s going on and to become an integral part of it."
Growing up in the United States, Atallah said his daughter is experiencing a totally different way of life. In Lebanon, he said, "You were labeled based on what you believed and where you lived. Over here it's different. I have the freedom to do the things that I want. I can go to church freely" without fearing violence. "I can vote freely and move around the country without fear."
"So, I do cherish the right to vote very, very, much and it's very important to me and my family," he repeated.
Approximately 3,500 Arab Americans are serving in the active-duty U.S. military and they include high-ranking officers like General John Abizaid, the commander of Central Command (CENTCOM) -- the regional military command responsible for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of the 1.4 million active-duty members of the U.S. military vote by absentee ballot from states in which they have established residency. In his case, Atallah said he cast an absentee ballot through the state of Florida, which has become his official "home of record."
To expedite voting by the military, the Defense Department has expanded its innovative e-mail voting system allowing thousands of troops to vote by computer in the 2006 midterm elections. The department has established a Web site (fvap.gov) that helps troops determine if voter registration in their home of record still is open and if the state allows use of the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), ballot delivery and return system.
In addition, voting assistance officers (VAOs) have been assigned to every military command, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan, to help troops get nonpartisan information about the voting process.
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