Monday, 31 March 2008
By Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky
2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — Her hands run across his hand, her fingers explore his features. She asks her father: Is he fat or skinny? Tall or short? She is trying to learn about the man she cannot see, the one who strives to end the mystery surrounding him and the world around her.
First Lt. Michael Kendrick, platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, said it is his goal to replace the mental picture young Noor Taha Najee has of her father with the actual image.
Noor, a 5-year-old girl who lives in al Buaytha, has been blind since birth, a condition caused by poorly-developed corneas, said her father Taha.
It is a problem which runs in the family. Taha's brother, Mustafa, also suffers from the birth defect, one that prevents the eyes from registering anything other than light sensitivity.
Although the condition is genetic, it is one that can be fixed through surgery. Kendrick, a native of Phoenix, Ariz., and his unit have been working closely with doctors to try to get something done for the family.
"To have her see her family, her brothers, to put a face to the voice, it would be a blessing," Taha said of the opportunity to help give sight to his daughter and brother.
The Eye Defects Research Foundation, a nongovernmental organization based in Los Angeles, is already trying to schedule a surgery for the girl.
On March 14, the Soldiers took Noor and her uncle to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad to get an evaluation done on the two, which showed a higher potential for success with Noor.
"We're on standby now, waiting for a doctor in L.A.," Kendrick said.
He said they are now trying to find a local Iraqi doctor who would be willing to travel with Noor and her family to California. An Iraqi doctor is needed who could be shown the necessary follow-up care.
Such a gift would seem appropriate for a girl who is described as very generous and giving by her father.
"She's different from many other kids," Taha said. "She's always sharing. She'll give you anything."
It is a personality trait which has endeared her to the 2nd Platoon Soldiers.
"We've taken a real vested interest in the people here," Kendrick said, adding his Soldiers spend a lot of time on the ground, interacting with residents. "We empathize with the people. It pays dividends winning the hearts and minds. It keeps things quiet."
Noor has developed quite an attachment to Kendrick, Taha said.
"She likes to sit by him, and is always asking me about him and loves it when I tell her stories about him," he said. "She's only like that with Kendrick."
As a father of two young girls himself – Presley, 3, and Parker, 1, – Kendrick said he knows the importance of family and providing for them.
While she may not be able to see what the Soldiers are doing for her, Taha said Noor can definitely sense the good will of Kendrick's platoon.
"Love begins in the mind, not the eyes," Taha said.