War on Terrorism

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Louisiana, Hawaii Guardsmen distribute care packages to families of fallen Iraqi policemen

By Maj. Thomas W. Mehl
Louisiana National Guard

BAGHDAD, Iraq, (9/23/10) -- Widows and orphaned children of 15 Iraqi policemen who sacrificed their lives in recent months, sat quietly at Baghdad Police Patrol Headquarters.

One by one, the families were called to the front of the room where Maj. Gen. Sabah Hasan, chief of Police Patrol Baghdad, and Hawaii Army National Guard Col. Matthew Nagasako, chief of the Baghdad police advisory team, presented them with care packages.

"This was a way for us to show compassion for the Iraqi Police families," said Nagasako, who prior to deploying was chief of the Special Security Division at National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. "Most of these male children will not have a childhood now because they will be expected to give up school and provide for the family. In the Iraqi culture, the oldest son becomes the man of the family."

Nagasako was instrumental in organizing the event, along with Chaplain (Capt.) Page Brooks of the Louisiana Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

"The idea came from my chaplain's assistant," said Brooks. "We began brainstorming about such an event six weeks ago, then the attacks happened."

The August attacks in Baghdad and across Iraq by insurgents killed and wounded hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers as they prepared to take full responsibility for the country's security on Sept. 1.

Brooks said he knew it was time to act. On Sept. 8, he partnered with Nagasako and soldiers of Det. 1, 94th Military Police Company to collect 40 boxes of toys from a Baghdad church. Donations also came from families of the 1-141st Field Artillery and 94th MP Company.

"Specifically, we distributed 20 bags of clothing, food, candy, toys and personal hygiene products," said Brooks, an Army Guard chaplain since 2003 and professor of Theology and Islamic Studies at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. "Even though it was a small event, it had such a large meaning for what we are doing in Operation New Dawn. It gave our Soldiers a chance to give something to these Iraqi police families personally and help strengthen the relationship we have with the Iraqis."

"The Guard opens its heart," Nagasako said. "I was so proud and appreciative of all the people in our Guard family. To see the smiles on the kids' faces, it was wonderful."

Sabah thanked the American Soldiers at the ceremony and noted the Police Patrol has lost about 750 policemen since 2003.

"What you did was a beautiful humanitarian effort which is truly appreciated," he said. "As a police headquarters, we have 750 fallen policemen whose blood has been shed to show the stability and security of Iraq and to protect the citizens. We also appreciate the sacrifices of your soldiers who helped liberate us. Thanks be to God that we live in a democracy now."

"This event showed me personally the sacrifice the Iraqi people are making for their freedom," Brooks said. "It made an impact seeing these eight or 10-year-old boys who are now the head of the family because of the sacrifice of their fathers.

"Seeing the partnerships that Col. Nagasako and the MPs have formulated with the Iraqi Police has been the most rewarding experience of this deployment," Brooks added. "I love my ministry to Soldiers, but this event was such a focal point."

Brooks said the interpreter told him afterward how appreciative and thankful the families were for the care packages and for honoring their loved ones.

He added that he and Col. Nagasako are planning another event in the near future for families of fallen members of the Baghdad Police River Patrol.

Looking back on the events that took place, Brooks recalled something the interpreter told him.

"She told me, 'You can't put a price on democracy, it's priceless!'"

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