CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Spc. Mohamed A. Mannai is ready to take advantage of all the opportunities the Army has to offer.
The 29-year-old utilities equipment repairer is assigned to the Fort Riley, Kansas, based 24th Composite Truck Company, which recently redeployed from Camp Buehring, Kuwait. While deployed, the company supported the mission of the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command.
During a recent mission in Saudi Arabia, the specialist took a few moments to talk about his mission and why he serves.
Mannai was born and raised in Tunis, Tunisia, and grew up speaking Arabic and French. His father works as a petroleum engineer, and his mother works in the family business exporting tuna and shrimp to countries like South Korea.
“Tunis is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea,” said Mannai. “It’s a really beautiful country, and it is famous for its beautiful beaches, olive oil, oranges … [and] seafood.”
The specialist was in his last year of high school in 2010 when the Tunisian Revolution kicked off. He said the 28-day civil resistance movement was a dangerous time for him and his family members.
“The police started shooting, and that’s when things got super bad,” Mannai said. “The president, he escaped from the country, and when he escaped … a lot of things changed.
“There were snipers everywhere, shooting everybody,” he continued. “I remember I was home that time, just me and my mom and my sister and brother — my father was in France — so I was in charge of getting food and everything; it was dangerous to go outside because you could get shot.”
Despite experiencing the challenge of living through a violent revolution, Mannai stayed focused on achieving his goals. He began attending Ecole Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et des Technologies studying aviation to become a pilot.
“Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot, and also, I loved space and all the theories like black holes and the Big Bang theory,” he said.
Mannai studied at the institution for two years before applying for and being granted a student visa to the United States. He moved to California in 2013 and attended an English school to help him become proficient in the language before he began attending community college. After two years of studies, he transferred to California Polytechnic State University to study aerospace engineering.
“When I moved to the states, I had a chance to study aerospace engineering, and I did my emphasis on astronautics, which is basically designing launch vehicles to deliver any kind of payload to space,” Mannai said.
The specialist graduated with his bachelor’s degree in May of 2020 and signed his contract with the U.S. Army in July.
“I was trying to join the Army since 2016, but then I just waited to graduate and then join,” the specialist said. “I really wanted to deploy, especially to Iraq and Afghanistan, because when I was a kid, I remember always watching the news in Tunisia, and I wanted one day to go there and explore a war zone.”
Mannai said he also enlisted because he wanted to take advantage of the educational benefits the Army offers to pursue a master’s degree in aerospace engineering with an emphasis in space flight mechanics.
In August 2020, the specialist shipped off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for Basic Combat Training. He then attended Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee, Virginia, before being stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.
“I showed up there for like a month or two, and then I deployed to Kuwait,” the specialist said. “At the beginning, it was really hard for me because I was a late deployer; I didn’t meet any of the people back in the rear.
“But then when I started getting used to them, they helped me a lot because I didn’t have any experience fixing trucks — I’m an AC technician and in AIT, I learned how to fix AC units, I didn’t work with any of the vehicles — so basically it was super hard for me at the beginning to learn that.”
Mannai played a critical role as a member of the maintenance team getting some of the Army’s only up-armored M1070 Heavy Equipment Transporters ready for Operation Provider Caravan.
The 12-day mission — executed by elements of 1st Theater Sustainment Command and Task Force Spartan on behalf of U.S. Army Central — was a multilateral operation that exercised some of the logistics capabilities within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to ensure U.S. and partner forces have the resources and flexibility to deliver supplies and materiel wherever needed.
The specialist also served as an interpreter for his company commander during the mission, which provided his commander the capability to communicate clearly and effectively with Saudi military partners.
“I always tell my NCOs if I can go on a mission that I can use my skills,” Mannai said.
The 24th CTC completed the operation in Saudi Arabia and returned to Kuwait in late December 2021 to prepare for redeployment back to Kansas.
Mannai said he looks forward to continuing to take advantage of the opportunities the Army provides once back at his home station. He is considering applying to become a civil affairs specialist or may transition to the National Guard once his active-duty contract expires to continue serving while working in the aerospace engineering field.
“I still want to become a pilot in the states,” the specialist said. “I’m planning on getting my private license.”
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