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Minnesota National Guard
Saving Mahdi: Soldiers from COB Basra work to help injured Iraqi boy

COB BASRA, Iraq – The four-year old boy sits in his father’s lap and eats from a bowl of Froot Loops It is the first time he has ever eaten Froot Loops, or any kind of cereal for that matter

His father whispers something in his ear, and the normally timid boy breaks into an impish grin “I told him I’m going to get him a bicycle,” the father said 

It’s warm day, and a fly buzzes around the boy, eventually nestling into the grisly open hole where the boy’s right eye once was

The boy’s name is Mahdi He is the victim of an insurgent mortar attack that destroyed his home and injured his grandmother, his aunt and his cousin

As a result of that attack, his right eye is gone, and he has shrapnel in his back, in his chest and in his brain Without corrective action, there is a chance that the shrapnel and bone fragments lodged in his brain will eventually kill him

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Since the July 30 attack that changed their lives forever, Mahdi and his father, Saleh, have been coming to the gate at Contingency Operating Base Basra almost every Monday morning, searching for someone who can help

“They tell me to come here,” Saleh said “And the American Soldier, they gonna give you the help”

Saleh said he still remembers the night that the mortar came down, the explosion and the burning and the sight of neighbors pulling his family out of the burning house

“I know my son is hurt,” he said “They take him to the hospital He was very bad The doctor said, ‘if your son is still like this, he’s going to be paralyzed’ I go to a lot of doctors, and I didn’t get any right answer so I come to here”

Forensic reports from the hospital in Basrah indicate that Madhi showed a distorted orientation, unstable vital signs and was vulnerable for complications The doctors treated Madhi to the best of their abilities, but they could not save his right eye, and they could not remove the shrapnel in his brain

Mahdi is still a playful child, but since his injury he is more skittish, withdrawn, shy

“He was good, he never needed anything, but then this incident happened to him,” Saleh said “He now can’t sleep in the night He feels pain every day”

And so Saleh and Mahdi wait by the gates of COB Basra, hoping that someone inside can help them

“I just want the help,” said Saleh “If they can send him to a hospital or they can send him some money I know they’re going to help”

The gate where Mahdi and his father wait is a busy one Many local Iraqis, some of whom have come a great distance, sit and wait in the heat until the Soldiers of the 34th Military Police Company, who provide security, can let them in While many pass through the gate, Mahdi, in particular, has captured the hearts of the Red Bull MPs

One of the MP’s, a burly old guy who asked not to be named, hands Mahdi a stuffed animal

“He’s a cute little boy, very shy,” the MP said “He can walk around but he’s very shy around the Soldiers He doesn’t smile; he doesn’t really look at you He hides behind his father a lot But when you get him to sit in your lap to look at his wounds, the kid’s just absolutely adorable”

The MPs gathered what food they could find for Mahdi and his father: Froot Loops, bread and Gatrorade The burly, in particular, has made it a personal mission to get word of Mahdi’s condition to everyone he knows

He seeks out church groups, fellow Soldiers, medics and officials, looking for assistance, any kind of assistance, for Madhi

“I just want to make it aware that this child needs help,” he said

Soon, help comes from outside Every week as Saleh has been telling his story through interpreters at the gate, the local national workers waiting to get into the base have been listening

“After hearing this story and seeing this child for themselves, they’ve actually started a collection drive, where they’ve been raising money on their own,” said the anonymous MP “So far, we’re up to 700,000 dinar, which is equivalent to about 900 dollars that these locals, who made very little money themselves, have donated to give to his child”

“One of the American Soldiers showed up here with pictures on his camera, and we looked at those pictures,” said one local contractor “We just want to help First of all, he is a son of our country We should help him because he is from our country”

Finally, after two months, there came a breakthrough Through the burly old MP’s efforts, a civil affairs operator with the Provincial Reconstruction Team had overheard Mahdi’s story and wanted to help

After contacting the MP, Staff Sgt Alexis Feliciano of the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, cleared the matter though the PRT, who cleared it through the 17th Fires Brigade, who cleared it with the 34th Inf Div Three days later, Mahdi was brought in for an evaluation, said Feliciano

“They gave him soccer balls and candy at the hospital, and he was just like a normal boy,” Feliciano said

Over the coming weeks, Mahdi would receive more gifts: clothes, pizza, and even a little wooden bicycle

Most importantly, Mahdi received a prognosis

“What we did was we hooked up with the [non-governmental organization] Mercy Corps,” said Maj Diane GreenPope, Basrah PRT health advisor and Military Support Element team leader “Mercy Corps is currently in the process of getting passports, visa, transportation issues squared away so that the little fella could travel to, potentially, Germany”

GreenPope said that once they receive paperwork from the Basrah hospital where Mahdi was originally treated, Mercy Corps, could send Madhi to a pediatric hospital in Germany, where he could receive a reconstruction of his eye socket, a protective prosthesis and protective glass to protect his remaining eye

“You never promise anything,” said GreenPope, a nurse in the civilian world, “but we will definitely, definitely do every thing we can”

“He’s an innocent He’s an innocent child caught in a war that he’s no part of,” said GreenPope, her hands clutched close to her chest, “and if we can make it better for him, I’m all for that”

Throughout this whole ordeal, Saleh had remained persistent, patient, hopeful, and once he knew that his son was going to be helped, Saleh was thankful, Feliciano recalls, thankful “to the point that there were tears coming out of his eyes”

Saleh was so thankful that he came back to the gates one week specifically to thank the Soldiers who had helped him – the MPs, Feliciano and GreenPope and the PRT, and all the other Soldiers and civilians from all over the base

A little boy, his little boy, was going to be helped, and after weeks of gloom and worry, Saleh’s world, so struck from its axis, had finally regained a little bit of its former stability and brightness

“He said,” the anonymous MP recalled, “’for the first time, I can see hope again”

By Spc J Princeville Lawrence
34th Red Bull Infantry Division PAO
19 Jan 2010





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