Streets of Corvallis to the shores of Tripoli
Mohamed Elgarguri fought against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya before returning to OSU
Published: Monday, May 21, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Mohamed Elgarguri clearly remembers the thoughts that went through his head as he experienced his first enemy ambush in Libya at the height of the Arab Spring last year.
He wasn’t thinking about the fact that he had been shot. In fact, he said, his adrenaline level was too far through the roof to even feel pain. He wasn’t thinking about the 100-meter sprint from his hiding spot to the truck that represented his only means of escape in a shower of bullets from Gaddafi’s militants.
No, in the midst of combat between Muammar Gaddafi loyalists and revolutionaries, Elgarguri was thinking about his kids.
“I was saying to myself, ‘What brought me here?’” said 23-year-old Elgarguri, a speech communications major and political science minor at Oregon State University.
He imagined a situation, years in the future, when his children would ask him what he was doing when the fights in the Middle East broke out. “If I had to tell them that I was smoking medical marijuana and fornicating in California, it would reflect poorly upon my character, so I kept saying, ‘I’m not going to let them get me."
And they didn’t. Elgarguri remembers running the fastest 100-meter sprint of his life to the five-person recon vehicle that carried 11 reporters and revolutionaries that happened to be in his charge. He remembers holding on with all his strength until the truck was a safe distance from enemy fire.
“I have no idea how I managed to stay on the car,” Elgaguri said, since he had neither a helmet nor a weapon, and the only thing that kept his feet from slipping off the ledge of the truck were the ridges of his combat boots.
This was one of many near-death encounters Elgarguri had while in Libya after having a life-changing epitome while watching Al-Jazeera in a restaurant in San Francisco where he free-lanced as a DJ.
Though he has a diverse ethnic heritage that comes from several countries in the region — his father was half Libyan and half Italian, and his mother is half Egyptian and half Turkish — Elgarguri said the revolutions in the Middle East did not catch his immediate attention until they began in Libya.
“I watched footage of a friend of mine who had gone to Libya for business and ended up protesting,” he said. “I saw footage of him being shot and his body carried away on a stretcher.”
Elgarguri said it was this moment in particular that altered his views of the world and his role in it. After a three-year bout with posttraumatic stress disorder, which came from his father’s death in a car accident in his hometown of Corvallis, Elgarguri remembers crying for what seemed like the first time.
“I felt a renewal of a sense of purpose. I felt my self-destructive instincts. My wasting of self-potential and time was immediately made clear in my eyes and I felt the need to do my best and be my best,” he said. “For the first time in all those PTSD years, tears came to my eyes, and I said, ‘I cannot stand idly by while these events are occurring overseas in the homeland of my father."
After a “spiritually cleansing” pilgrimage with his mother throughout the Middle East, which he said helped him “surrender his ego,” Elgarguri smuggled himself into Libya to fight for the one cause he believes in.
“No savage barbarian has ever used mercenaries against his own people,” Elgarguri said in reference to Gaddafi’s reign. “After Tripoli fell and Gaddafi was on the run, I said good bye.”
He worked with a number of international organizations, including Doctors Without Borders and TF1, a national French TV Channel.
“Whatever skills and talents I was blessed with were to be used for the benefit of others,” he said.
After surviving combat situations on recon, producing reports for TF1 and working on the medical side, Elgarguri returned to Corvallis in December 2011 where he is studying and living with his wife who is pregnant with their first child.
In his view, nothing but divine intervention brought him back to the city of his childhood, where he hopes to make a difference within the Associated Students of OSU. “My life proves, without a shadow of doubt, that coincidence is not possible,” he said.
Elgarguri was recently a finalist in a pool of applicants for Memorial Union president and, since he wasn’t selected, has his sights set on three different positions within the ASOSU executive cabinet.