The offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group officially kicked off Monday, but one new Marine has waged the battle for years.

Lance Cpl. Amanda Issa — who as a teenager fled the violence of her native Mosul ahead of the arrival of the Islamic State — now proudly wears the Eagle, Globe and Anchor of her childhood heroes, a coveted distinction earned a day after becoming a U.S. citizen.

"I was one of those kids that always ran after the Humvees," the 21-year-old laughed about growing up in Iraq's second-largest city after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. "There were a lot of [American] military there — Army, Navy — but the Marines were different."

The Marines, she recalled, always acted more polite, friendly and professional than others — and they were more fit.

Issa took these differences to heart, and knew that one day she wanted to become a United States Marine herself. Issa achieved that life-long goal on Sept. 30, and in an interview recalled her remarkable journey from Iraq and Turkey to Detroit and Parris Island.

"I always wanted to do something different than the other females in my country," she said in a Friday phone interview. "We were not allowed to do what males can do there, and I never accepted that."

With the hand-over of responsibilities to the Iraqi Security Forces, the fault lines of ethnically diverse Mosul soon became painfully apparent. Beginning in 2008, waves of murders and death threats against the city’s Assyrian Christians led to a mass exodus.

Issa fled with her family to neighboring Turkey in July 2010, where they lived as refugees for one year in "complete peace," but soon found themselves strangers in a strange land.

"It was hard for us to get anything, even simple things, because you couldn’t speak with the locals," she said. "[The Turks] knew we were refugees and any time you would go and try to buy something, they would charge you more, but you couldn’t do anything about it."

Issa hugs her mother Sept. 29 after a naturalization ceremony on Parris Island, S.C. (Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Carlin Warren)

Working for it

Issa has a knack for languages: she speaks fluent Arabic, Chaldean and now, English. But her lack of Turkish barred her from school, which meant long periods spent biding her time while her family applied for refugee status in the U.S.

When refugee status was bestowed in May 2011, Issa boarded a flight with her parents and two sisters to begin her new life in Detroit. She quickly made up for lost time.

"I was so happy, but it was completely different than what I imagined," she said. "We came here and it was still hard; coming to a new country and learning how to adapt to the new culture and new way of life, everything."

Her high school offered English as a Second Language classes, but Issa was impatient and took learning the language into her own hands: after only a month, she dropped out of the ESL class and dove into regular courses where she knew she’d be forced to speak English.

"If you want to do something, you work for it really hard," she said matter-of-factly. "I really wanted to communicate, I didn’t want to just sit in the corner, so I tried my best to talk to everyone in English."

Her tenacity paid off: within two years, Issa went from near-zero language proficiency to graduating in the top 10 of her Madison Heights, Michigan, high school.

She didn’t stop there, though: she went on to pick up an associate degree in global studies from nearby Oakland Community College before marching into the local Marine Corps recruiting office in March 2015.

"I told myself that it is the time to do it now, because I’d always wanted to," she said. "I think I had more knowledge, more experience at that time, and I just did it."

She stepped onto the yellow footprints at Parris Island on Jan. 19, 2016 and quickly embraced the adversity of boot camp.

"It’s really tough and everything, but everything the drill instructors do, they do it for a reason; you learn a lot if you accept that and it gets really easy," she said. "So for me, I really liked it."

One month in, however, she was badly injured during a conditioning hike and faced a potential medical discharge.

She wasn’t deterred, however, and directed her laser-sharp focus on her recovery.

"A lot of people told me ‘Ah, you’re not going to be able to do it and you’re just going home and you won’t make it’," she recalled. "At some point some people told me ‘Oh, you’re probably staying here because you just want to get your citizenship,' but the only reason I stayed and continued training was I wanted to be a Marine," she said.

And she made it.

Issa graduated with Platoon 4034, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion on Sept. 30, 2016. The day before, she was naturalized as a U.S. citizen; the day after, she was promoted to lance corporal.

She then returned to Detroit to briefly serve as a recruiters’ assistant before heading to Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina.

Issa is on track to become a 3112 Traffic Management Specialist, according to Marine Corps officials.

Regarding the possibility that she could eventually deploy to her native city, Issa says she’ll go wherever the Marine Corps sends her and she'll do what she was trained to do.

"I don’t know what the future holds, but I always do my best and work hard," she said. "After boot camp, it’s not about you, it’s about the Marine Corps."

"I’m excited for what’s next," she added.

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