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Iraqi boy lands safely in U.S.

POSTED: April 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

Ammar Haddad Muhammad, bottom center of photo, and his father were greeted at the airport in Charleston by members of the Rotary International Gift of Life program.

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Ammar Haddad Muhammad, a 5-year-old Iraqi boy, and his father landed on time Saturday night in Charleston, S.C., to begin the process of getting life-saving surgery thanks to help from a Gainesville Marine.

Maj. Kevin Jarrard, a Marine from Gainesville who is currently in Iraq, identified little Ammar, whose father, Hammad, is an Iraqi police captain. Jarrard, a 35-year-old history teacher at Riverside Military Academy, commands Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, a Marine Corps Reserve unit.

According to Patrick Campbell with the Rotary International club in Charleston, S.C., both Ammar and Hammad were a little tired after their 6,600-mile journey.

"They are of course tired, but the child just burst into smiles and perked right up when he saw us there. We were lucky to have Sam Asey join us to interpret. Neither Hammad nor Ammar speak English, so Sam was a great help with all of the confusing
introductions and arrangements which have to be made," Campbell said via e-mail.

Ammar and his father first traveled via airplane from Baghdad to Jordan, where they boarded a flight to the United States. Ammar and Hammad landed in Charleston at 10:50 p.m. Saturday.

A Charleston hospital has agreed to perform the surgery at no cost. The Rotary club’s Gift of Life program will provide food and shelter for Ammar and his father throughout their stay.

The two spent Saturday night at Campbell’s home and were to go Sunday to the home of the first of three host families with whom they will be staying. Campbell said all three host families have children, which will give Ammar "a wonderful life’s experience in more ways than just medical."

Ammar’s stay in Charleston could last up to three months for follow-up appointments after the surgery later this month.

His first doctor’s appointment is scheduled for this morning, which should determine when the surgery can be done, Campbell said.

Ammar isn’t the first Iraqi child who has been helped by Jarrard. Amenah Al-Bayati, a girl from Haditha City, Iraq, was treated in the United States earlier this year for a serious, life-threatening heart defect.

Last month, she returned home to be reunited with her family. The long-term prognosis for Amenah, who underwent a complex procedure to redirect blood from her heart to her lungs, is good, Jarrard said at the time.

Jarrard’s command in Haditha City, Iraq, is set to end on Tuesday. According to an e-mail from a member of his unit updating the status of Ammar’s trip to the United States, at least some members of Jarrard’s unit are on their way to the U.S., too.

"We started to process back to the United States. I left the Haditha area on (Thursday)," Lt. Cmdr. Mike Wilson wrote in an e-mail.

Jarrard, who has been in Haditha for the past six months, is on his second tour of duty, having first been deployed in 2003 during the invasion.

During that time in Haditha, Jarrard and his unit have worked on rebuilding the city, not only its infrastructure, but also the trust of its residents.

"It’s been very peaceful for the time I’ve been here. There’s a lot of progress being made. The folks seem happy; the economy is rolling along at a pretty good clip; we’re doing a lot of rebuilding there. The Iraqis themselves have established a pretty strong and effective local government, so I think Haditha’s going to be just fine — it’s got a lot of possibility and a lot of potential," Jarrard told The Times in a phone interview from Iraq earlier this month.



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