A Michigan Army National Guard officer today received the prestigious Patriot Award from the nation's largest veterans service organization for his personal efforts in giving hope, and getting medical treatment, for a 13-year old Iraqi boy.
Major David A. Howell, a physician's assistant, was on a mission with his unit to protect a gathering of Iraqi women and children last November in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, when he first saw Mohammed. The women, widows of Iraqi policemen, were collecting government support. His father was killed three years earlier by insurgents because he was an interpreter for American military forces.
His mother took off his cap and exposed Mohammed's badly disfigured head from a house fire when he was a young child.
"Will you save me?" the boy, then 11, said to Maj. Howell.
"I felt an obligation as an American to do something for this family," Howell said. "If I was going to try to do something, this was it."
It took Maj. Howell six months to get permission to bring Mohammed to America and find him a Muslim host family; he personally set up a foundation to pay for his operations which cost over $100,000 in lab work, X-rays, anesthesia and other hospital expenses.
As a result of his personal commitment, Howell cut through the bureaucratic red tape to get Mohammed sent back to Michigan where he obtained the free services of Dr. Edward Lanigan, Michigan Sate University associate professor of surgery, who performed a series of reconstructive procedures for free over a year that changed the young boy's life.
In presenting the award to Maj. Howell, National Commander Clarence E. Hill said, "Death and destruction will always remain a part of war - but our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen, have always gone to great lengths to protect and assist the civilian population. Major David Howell of the Michigan National Guard epitomizes the compassion that our soldiers have for innocent civilians. He played a key role in ensuring that the young boy, Mohammed, received the medical care in the United States that he needed. It is a perfect example of what separates us from our enemies."
Howell said the whole time he had been following a motto: "Believe in a cause greater than yourself."
Today, Mohammed is back with his family with fond remembrances of his time in America and the many friends he will always remember, particularly his hero - one caring American military officer who left an indelible mark on a war-torn country.
The fund Howell established, the Martyr Medical Fund for Children, continues today to assist other children of Iraqi interpreters killed in the line of duty.
Writing on The American Legion's blog site, Burn Pit, Army veteran Mark Seavey wrote, "I pray that the future of Iraq is entrusted to the children and young men like Mohammed who were touched by men and women like Maj. Howell who awake each day in theater and strive to be the very public, beneficent face of America."
The award was presented on the first day of The American Legion's 92nd National Convention in Milwaukee, Wis., before an audience of nearly 5,000 delegates.
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