PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – A Washington state soldier has married the Iraqi woman he met and fell in love with while in Baghdad (search).
Robert Hall, 23, says he knew within a month that he would marry Vivian Mansour, 21, of Baghdad, even though at first neither spoke a word of each other's language.
Hall, an Army reservist who earned a Bronze Star (search) for meritorious service during his one-year tour, said he's never been happier. The two were married here Saturday.
"I never in my life saw this coming," he said.
For them, cultural differences are offset by a shared Christian faith. Mansour is a Kurdish Christian (search) -- a population that makes up just 3 percent of Iraq's 24 million people.
"It's such a learning experience," Hall said. "Our cultures are different, but the way we look at it is, we're both children of God."
The Christian population was persecuted by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime, but after his ouster they have been targeted by other groups. A recent wave of church bombings has prompted about 40,000 Iraqi Christians to leave the country.
Mansour's family has been in danger not only because of their faith, but because they worked for the U.S. military.
Hall was with the 4022nd Civil Affairs Battalion, which set up camp inside the Baghdad palace complex. The battalion worked closely with Iraqis, helping to resolve infrastructure problems and clear weapons caches. He met Mansour -- and her mother and sister -- when they were hired as cleaning women.
"Every time she came over, I kind of followed her and watched her clean," Hall said.
"Yes, everywhere," Mansour recalled, laughing.
He met with his unit's attorney to make sure the interactions were legal. The couple met in open settings when Hall was off duty.
"I made sure every step of the way I wasn't doing anything illegal," Hall said. "I wouldn't suggest having a relationship over there at all. It makes it that much harder. But I find myself blessed for what happened."
Mansour, who had never before left Baghdad, misses her parents, her sister and four brothers. Relatives from San Diego flew north to attend the wedding. Hall says his main focus initially will be to help her feel at home.
Mansour's English is still a work in progress, but she knows what attracted her to Hall.
"Heart first," she said, pointing to her chest.