Rachid (Right) receiving the Marine Corps’ “Certificate of Commendation” in August of 2005, at Camp Fallujah, a U.S. compound used by Marines from 2004 to 2009 in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq.

The Eight Ball Café opened in downtown Everett back in September of 2018. The family-owned and operated restaurant and bar offers Mediterranean-style food with a dash of Asian fusion. Its location at 2727 Colby Ave in Everett makes it the perfect spot downtown to enjoy a drink and meal.

Rachid Ayouni, owner and operator of the café has a lifelong experience that goes far beyond serving smiles. Before immigrating to the United States in November of 1997, Ayouni received a Bachelor of Architecture from an accredited university in Algeria. After that, he was recruited by the United States Military and ended up joining the Marines in the year 2000 at the age of 25. During his time in the Marines, he served in the reserves in a tank battalion as a tanker.

After 9/11, Ayouni was assembled various times before receiving mobilization orders in 2004 to deploy to Iraq. In 2005 he was in Operation Iraqi Freedom 3rd Cycle, which commenced in July of 2004 with the stated goal of flowing new active and reserve forces into the Iraqi theater of operations for up to 12-month rotations, and eventually reducing U.S. force levels in Iraq from 140,000 to approximately 130,000.

Following that year, Ayouni was approached to work as a contracted linguist where he worked closely with the workman coalition. However, after time, it grew old on Ayouni, “the fun hit the plateau, the excitement, motivation, and the challenge went away.”

Soon after, U.S. military senior leaders approached Ayouni and offered him a role at the headquarter level as a Senior Strategic Advisor and Cultural Advisor for the United States Military from 2007-2010. This job meant he served as the go-to guy between the United States government and the Iraqi government. “It’s guys like me who make sure things are implemented properly, I was seen as a liaison between the two governments,” said Ayouni.

During his day-to-day life in Iraq, he would follow up with various Iraqi senior leaders on strategies and then bring them back to U.S. leaders and negotiate facilitations between both governments. His office was co-located in Sedam Hussain’s former palace as well as the NAC (New embassy compound) in the green zone. A “green zone” is supposed to be a generally safe area, however, they would take surveys outside of the wire and go on various foot patrols.

Many times, Rachid and his fellow servicemen and women would travel and make their trips alongside Iraqi troops, riding in the same vehicles and attending the same meetings. Later in his career, he became a Ministerial Advisor in Afghanistan from 2012- 2015.

The goal for U.S. troops was to free Iraq and Afghanistan from Saddam Hussain and Taliban control. Ayouni said that if we gauge the outcome of what happened to the original mission statement, we failed miserably. “Because we went into this mission to free Iraqis from Sadam and then De-Ba’athification of the Ba’athist political party,” said Ayouni.

The De-Ba’athification of the Ba’athist political party was undertaken in Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to remove the party’s influence in the new Iraqi political system after the 2003 invasion. The CPA considered this to be Iraq’s equivalent to Germany’s denazification after World War II. 

Rachid explained that U.S. presence in the middle east is like having a police presence, we all know how people act when there are police around versus when there isn’t. “I’m not suggesting that we should be a cop but we are leaders that provide a diplomatic presence to ensure democracy and take care of terrorists by training the local forces to provide a safe haven for its people,” said Mr. Ayouni. He was surprised when President Biden announced a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, “we will leave that decision for the history books.”  

Afghan refugees boarding a U.S. military plane to evacuate Kabul at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

Over the last twenty years, over 97,000 Afghan refugees have been relocated to the United States, according to the State Department. Recently, following the complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan, close to 130,000 Afghans were airlifted out of the country in one of the U.S.’s largest mass evacuations in history. Former governor of Delaware and coordinator of “Operation Allies Welcome” has said that the U.S. is expected to admit at least 50,000 of the refugees.

1,679 Afghan refugees will be making their way to Washington state. Of that, around 1,200 or so will be settling in Snohomish County. Since August, almost 300 have arrived, according to Washington State’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance.

Rachid believes Washington State legislators should put in place an incentive(s) for businesses like his or Amazon to hire refugees and help them be integrated into our society. Ayouni shared that Americans value those who have a job, have income, and respect the ideals of democracy and the constitution. If people only respect those who can contribute to our society, then we must help teach these incoming refugees what our society expects.  “It’s incumbent upon us to provide that bridge, and if people don’t cross it, then we will see how we can go about it.”

The Marine Core veteran spoke with great passion during this portion of our conversation, “1,200, 5,000, it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t come in and receive the help they need,” said Rachid.

He pointed out that these refugees will need language training to help with the language barrier, they will need help learning the culture of professionalism for when they sit down to interview for a job. “If you bring people and put them on welfare, it doesn’t do anyone any good,” said Rachid. “It just furthers the negative narrative about refugees and furthers the divide.” He was explaining that it is our job as citizens to help these people join our communities. We can’t sit back and expect them to know what the social norms of our neighborhoods and communities look like.

“This shouldn’t just be a U.S. problem; it is an international issue. It is a global issue that should be addressed with a global solution,” said Ayouni. After my conversation with Mr. Ayouni, I reached out to Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.

I wanted to know their thoughts on programs such as this and if ideas such as Ayouni’s should be enacted at the local level. Mayor Franklin’s response was, “I’m committed to ensuring Everett is a welcoming community for all. I am generally supportive of programs that help connect newcomers with opportunities to help them take root in our community and thrive.”

Mike Faulk, Deputy Communications Director and Press Secretary for the office of Gov. Inslee said, “Our office and many others in the state are working hard to find ways to support Afghan refugees. We have talked to different groups about ways to help, including employment opportunities. That’s largely through reaching out to industry stakeholders for their awareness and capacity to help. An incentive program like the one you’re talking about would probably need to be created by the Legislature. In the meantime, we’re looking at what potential resources are already available. Some of it will be state support, some will be federal, private or nonprofit.”

Mike Faulk, Deputy Communications Director and Press Secretary for the office of Gov. Inslee said, “Our office and many others in the state are working hard to find ways to support Afghan refugees.”

“The numbers shouldn’t be the conversation, we are one of the richest states in the country, obviously, we can do more, why not?” Said Ayouni. “After all, that’s one of the greatest qualities of this country. But let’s not bite off more than we can chew, let’s grab whatever number we can handle in order to make an example out of this program.”

When asked if he thought other local businesses would be open to an incentive program to work with these refugees he added, “Absolutely, I will do it anyway if I can.” He conceded that he and many others are running for-profit businesses, and if he is given an incentive, he would be the first one to volunteer for it because of his time spent overseas. “I was in Iraq, I was in Afghanistan, I know how hardworking, ingenious, and independent these fine people can be.”

Rachid hopes that if our country can make a difference in any way, shape, or form, we should do that. “Those we lost in Afghanistan responded to a call to serve and protect their country, but also to make the life of the Afghans better,” says Rachid. “There is no cavoite that we are only going to make it better in Afghanistan, the idea is to make the life of Afghans better…. I don’t remember there being a cavoite that we could only do that in Afghanistan.”

He said that we would be honoring those who sacrificed their lives protecting these people, it’s a way to follow through with that promise.

Rachid hopes the senators, the state representatives, the governors, the national representatives all look at this situation as a continuation of our mission in Afghanistan, it just so happens to be outside their borders.   

Although he’s no longer an active-duty soldier, he still goes out every day to fight for what he believes in. His dream was to own a restaurant and be able to use it for members of the community to come and enjoy great food, great beer, and even better conversation.

The Eight Ball Café is open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 8 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm. Find them on Facebook here or go to their website to learn more.

 

Daniel Albert is an Award-Winning journalist majoring in Integrated Strategic Communications at Washington State University.