By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Little Rawan bounced on the couch, clapping her tiny hands, gaining laughter from those watching her in the room.
From the color of her blue lips, she looked as though she might have savored one grape-flavored lollypop too many. She sang while she bounced, but her voice came out as wisps of air, as if she were playing a joke on her grandparents to force them to listen closely. Her skin is pale for an Iraqi child, compared to the rich skin color of her grandfather and grandmother, who visited with U.S. Soldiers to talk about her condition.
Rawan, who is five years old, has a congenital heart disease, and her condition is extreme as it is affecting her pulmonary arteries and lungs, which causes her to talk in soft rasps, limiting oxygen to her skin and causing the blue color of her lips.
Her family brought Rawan to the civil-military operations center on Forward Operating Base Kalsu in hopes of receiving help. Soldiers with the 415th Civil Affairs Company and the 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery have been working with Rawan's family since June, when the mayor of Jabella approached one of their officers about her condition.
"They're showing everybody they are really great people who really care about humans; doesn't matter if Iraqis or Americans," Rawan's grandfather, Ali Isa Amran, said of the Soldiers offering help.
"They do care about Iraqi [children] right here and that's showing a really good picture of America to all of the world."
Ever since June, Spc. Michael Kim has been spearheading the effort to find good medical care and raise money for Rawan's operation.
"I feel that in America we try to help the poor, and I think that just because I'm here in Iraq, it shouldn't stop me from being an American citizen and doing my duty to serve," said Kim, of Manhattan, N.Y. "Not just as a Soldier but as a citizen helping people because back home I used to send people to the homeless shelters; I used to refer them to food pantries."
His drive to serve the people of Iraq comes from his faith and religious studies. Kim studied philosophy and religious psychology at Yale University, and carries those teachings with him wherever he goes. At one point, Kim was a Marine Reservist with a parachute unit and later a Coast Guard officer. He left the military, however, to answer a spiritual calling to become a Dominican friar monk, serving and studying at university monasteries in San Antonio, and later in St. Louis. Now, as a civilian, he works as a combat trauma specialist and psychoanalyst for a Veterans Affairs hospital in New York City.
It's been 16 years since he last put on a uniform as a service member before coming to Iraq. He decided to return to the military for a one-year commitment and volunteered for a deployment in Iraq with the U.S. Army. It was a year he wanted to dedicate to serving in a civil manner, and meeting Rawan gave him exactly that opportunity.
"I think that it has to come down to my commitment to Army Civil Affairs and also being a former Dominican friar," Kim said of his decision to help this little girl. "My previous calling to serve God is also tied to my country's mission to not just be [deployed] in this country, but to help the people. That's just as important as finding an insurgent. It helps the community."
Ever since becoming involved with Rawan's case, Kim summoned the help of fellow Soldiers and organizations back home to raise money for Rawan's surgery. He spoke with Iraqi doctors at the National Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad to seek their help evaluating Rawan. He helped link Rawan with the Ibn al Bitar Hospital in Baghdad to have her receive an echocardiogram to scan her heart. He then contacted medical institutions and hospitals throughout the U.S. to look at Rawan's echo screening, which unfortunately revealed how severe her condition truly was.
"Rawan's cardiac condition has limited her quality of life and she's often tired ... Her heart defect has also affected her lungs so she has trouble breathing. Because of all of this it's been a challenge to find help," he said.
Since taking on Rawan's case, Kim has slept only four or five hours a night, often working late into the night doing online research and contacting people in the U.S. and doctors in Iraq to see what more he could do to help.
A group in the U.S. known as Team Rawan has been raising money and even found someone to donate frequent flyer miles to cover Rawan's travel to a hospital willing to perform the operation. The group is made up of four women, Siobhan Dolan, Lina Raspaolo (both of New York City), Karla Reilly (of Montgomery, Ala.), and Heather Foley (of Washington, D.C.) who together have been able to raise $1,500 and plan on raising more. More friends in Daytona, Fla., held a 500-person party to raise awareness and money. Kim has even started the "Prayer and a Dollar" fund drive, asking service members on FOB Kalsu to donate their prayers and charitable giving.
Babylon University in Hillah has also offered to help, providing cardiac tomography imaging to see the extent of Rawan's operation needs. As far as providing the operation, Kim is looking at options in India where doctors are treating children from developing countries and leading the way for progressive medicine.
Admittedly, Kim has said he's faced doubt on many occasions in trying to find a solution for Rawan. It is only because of the support he has received from people around the world that he has found the strength to keep going.
"It's a wonderful thing because no man is an island, so said a famous monk, Thomas Merton ... It means you can't just think that you're here alone as far as being your existence or doing the different things in your life for yourself or for others. You're not by yourself and luckily I've got Soldiers and concerned Americans and others and Iraqis who are very supportive," he said.
For Kim, though, the challenge is even greater because his one-year commitment ends in November, and he may not be able to see Rawan's case being carried through in person. However, he intends to keep helping and keep the work going after he returns home and reassured Rawan's family that the next civil affairs unit will continue to work with them and resume the progress already made by the 415th CA Company.
"I have to always remember that it's a team effort, that I recognize that there are a lot of Soldiers and American citizens and doctors and hospital staff that are behind me and with me, so I don't really focus on the impossible even though at times I spend a lot of nights worrying about [Rawan]. Every morning I wake up and say, 'I got people working with me, so everything's okay.'"
To help Spc. Michael Kim in his efforts, he can be contacted at email@example.com
This work, Soldier's heartfelt response to Iraqi child's condition, by MSG Michel Sauret, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.