Dance Major Learns From Iraqis

Story by Staff Sgt. Thomas Greene
Photos by Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika
and Staff Sgt. Thomas Greene
278th Armored Cavalry Regiment Public Affairs Office
13th Sustainment Command (Expenditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Twenty four- year-old Spc. Anna Jonkman has a keen sense of cultural awareness. To her, it is a natural instinct that she applies daily while escorting Iraqi employees, to work at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Jonkman, a local national escort with the 1073rd Support Maintenance Company, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expenditionary) and Grand Rapids, Mich., native, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Dance Performance and Choreography from Hope College in Holland, Mich.

She said her awareness comes naturally because of her education in dance and because she is an African-American adopted and raised by Caucasian parents.

She said she was raised the youngest of seven adopted children. Two brothers are Korean. Two sisters are Indian. Another sister is African-Korean and a fourth sister is from Bangladesh.

“I grew up in a world where no one looked like me,” Jonkman said. “That has made me more aware of other people’s customs, languages and culture.”

Jonkman, having taught in the Grand Rapids Ballet, said teaching here is similar.

She has learned a lot of the Arabic language from the local nationals during this deployment, she said.

“I have two full notebooks of Arabic words they have taught me,” Jonkman said. “I taught myself the accent first. Now I think if I recognize two words in a sentence I know what they’re talking about.”

Jonkman said she intends to obtain her Master’s degree when the deployment ends.

“My college has an affiliate dance company — semi-pro — and I would like to be the director of it, but you have to have a Master’s degree to teach and direct there,” she said.

Staff Sgt. Richard Hardy, a squad leader with the 1073rd SMC and a Perry, Mich., native, described Jonkman as a “go-getter” Soldier.

“It doesn’t matter what job you assign her,” he said. “She’ll get it done.”

Jonkman has taught dance in the western area of the Lower Peninsula in Mich. and worked for Hope College as a musician. She plays various drum instruments and has taught herself acoustic guitar and piano, she said.

“When she teaches a class at the 1073rd, she’ll try to make it the best it can be,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald Dexter, a platoon leader with the 1073rd SMC and a Lapeer County, Mich., native.

“I love to teach,” Jonkman said. "I love to educate and interact with students. I learn life experience from my students and they all bring something to the table.”

She said she believes the local nationals know a little bit of a lot of languages.

“They quickly adapt to whoever is around them whether it is our Soldiers, Ugandans or British Soldiers,” Jonkman said.

She said as a Reformed Christian, she is fascinated with the Iraqi’s dedication to prayer.

“I’ll watch them smoking and joking during work,” Jonkman Said. “Then they get quiet and go behind a security barrier and do their prayer. Sometimes they’ll use an empty sandbag for a prayer mat.”

“We don’t see Muslims praying in Grand Rapids,” she said. “I love this experience. I remind myself I had to take two plane rides and a 16 hour bus trip to see this.”

Jonkman joined the Michigan Army National Guard during her senior year of college. She joined for the life experience and to help her Family, she said.

“I’m doing something to help my Family,” she said. “America is my Family”.

“I’m happy to be here and to learn from the Iraqi people,” Jonkman said. “I’m experiencing things my friends back home aren’t. There are no mortar rounds being launched at my friends in Grand Rapids.”

“This is my way of saying to them (friends at home), ‘I love you and I want you to have whatever liberties you like and share in those with you and learn Iraqi culture while I’m here.’”

 

news photo
Spc. Anna Jonkman, a local national escort with the 1073rd Support Maintenance Company, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expenditionary) and a Grand Rapids, Mich., native bears the company guidon April 8 during ceremony at Camp Shelby, Miss. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Kilka)

news photo
Spc. Anna Jonkman, a local national escort with the 1073rd Support Maintenance Company, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expenditionary) and a Grand Rapids, Mich., checks assignments of Local Nationals April 14 at Joint Base Balad. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Greene)