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A note of thanks to those who serve [9-11 widow in Iraq - moving!]
Air Force Link - thru ^ | 6/30/2003 | Christy Ferer

Posted on 07/05/2003 1:05:42 PM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl

A note of thanks to those who serve

6/30/2003 - NEW YORK (AFPN) -- When I told friends about my pilgrimage to Iraq to thank the U.S. troops, reaction was underwhelming at best.

Some were blunt. "Why are you going there?" They could not understand why it was important for me, a 9/11 widow, to express my support for the men and women stationed today in the Gulf.

But the reason seemed clear to me: 200,000 troops have been sent halfway around the world to stabilize the kind of culture that breeds terrorists like those who I believe began World War III on Sept. 11, 2001. Reaction was so politely negative that I began to doubt my role on the first USO/Tribeca Institute tour into newly occupied Iraq where, on average, a soldier a day is killed.

Besides, with Robert De Niro, Kid Rock, Rebecca and John Stamos, Wayne Newton, Gary Sinise, and Lee Ann Womack, who needed me?

Did they really want to hear about my husband, Neil Levin, who went to work as director of the New York Port Authority on Sept.11 and never came home? How would they relate to the two others traveling with me: Ginny Bauer, a New Jersey homemaker and the mother of three who lost her husband, David; and former Marine Jon Vigiano, who lost his only sons, Jon, a firefighter and Joe, a policeman.

As we were choppered over deserts that looked like bleached bread crumbs, I wondered if I'd feel like a street hawker, passing out Port Authority pins and baseball caps as I said "thank you" to the troops. Would a hug from me mean anything at all in the presence of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and a Victoria’s Secret model?

The first "meet and greet" made me weep. Why? Soldiers, armed with M16s and saddlebags of water in 120-degree heat, swarmed over the stars for photos and autographs. When it was announced that a trio of Sept. 11 family members was also in the tent it was as if a psychic cork on an emotional dam was popped.

Soldiers from all over our great country rushed toward us to express their condolences. Some wanted to touch us, as if they needed a physical connection to our sorrow and for some living proof for why they were there.

One mother of two from Montana told me she enlisted because of Sept. 11. Dozens of others told us the same thing. One young soldier showed me his metal bracelet engraved with the name of a victim he never knew and that awful date none of us will ever forget.

In fact at every encounter with the troops there would be a surge of Reservists -- firefighters and cops, including many who had worked the rubble of Ground Zero -- wanting to exchange a hometown hug.

Their glassy eyes still do not allow anyone to penetrate too far inside to the place where their trauma is lodged; the trauma of a devastation far greater than anyone who hadn't been there could even imagine. It's there in me, too. I had forced my way downtown on that awful morning, convinced that I could find Neil beneath the rubble.

What I was not prepared for was to have soldiers show us the World Trade Center memorabilia they'd carried with them into the streets of Baghdad. Others had clearly been holding in stories of personal 9/11 tragedies which had made them enlist.

USO handlers moved us from one corner to the next so everyone could meet us. One fire brigade plucked the three of us from the crowd, transporting us to their firehouse to call on those who had to stand guard during the Baghdad concert. It was all about touching us and feeling the reason they were in this hell. Back at Baghdad International Airport, Kid Rock turned a "meet and greet" into an impromptu concert in a steamy airport hangar before 5000 troops.

One particular soldier, Capt. Vargas from the Bronx, told me he enlisted in the Army after some of his wife's best friends were lost at the World Trade Center.

When he glimpsed the piece of recovered metal from the Towers that I had been showing to a group of soldiers he grasped for it as if it were the Holy Grail. Then he handed it to Kid Rock who passed the precious metal through the 5000 troops in the audience. They lunged at the opportunity to touch the steel that symbolized what so many of them felt was the purpose of their mission -- which puts them at risk every day in the 116 degree heat, not knowing all the while if a sniper was going to strike at anytime.

Looking into that sea of khaki gave me chills even in that blistering heat. To me, those troops were there to avenge the murder of my husband and 3,000 others. When I got to the microphone I told them we had not made this journey for condolences but to thank them and to tell them that the families of 9/11 think of them every day. They lift our hearts. The crowd interrupted me with chants of "USA, USA, USA." Many wept.

What happened next left no doubt that the troops drew inspiration from our tragedies. When I was first asked to speak to thousands of troops in Qatar, after Iraq, I wondered if it would feel like a "grief for sale" spectacle.

But this time I was shaking because I was to present the recovered WTC steel to Gen. Tommy Franks (U.S. Central Command commander). I quivered as I handed him the icy gray block of steel. His great craggy eyes welled up with tears. The sea of khaki fell silent. Then the proud four-star general was unable to hold back the tears which streamed down his face on center stage before 4,000 troops. As this mighty man turned from the spotlight to regain his composure I comforted him with a hug.

Now, when do I return?

(Editor’s note: This commentary is printed with permission from Christy Ferer, a New York native whose husband, Neil Levin, was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ferer was part of a recent United Services Organizations tour to Iraq.)

TOPICS: Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; US: New York; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: 911families; army; marines; navy; usaf; usmc
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1 posted on 07/05/2003 1:05:42 PM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Tommy ain't the only one with tears in his eyes! Thank you for that's very special.
2 posted on 07/05/2003 1:13:36 PM PDT by tsmith130
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl; carlo3b; Snow Bunny; stanz; christie
Get out the hankies...bump
3 posted on 07/05/2003 1:16:16 PM PDT by jellybean
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Bump for a good human story !
4 posted on 07/05/2003 1:20:27 PM PDT by Ben Bolt
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Also here with additional comments:
5 posted on 07/05/2003 1:25:10 PM PDT by Ben Hecks
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Awesome post! It gave me chills.
6 posted on 07/05/2003 1:27:18 PM PDT by habs4ever
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To: Kathleen; Molly Pitcher; Neets
worth a read :)
7 posted on 07/05/2003 1:28:23 PM PDT by habs4ever
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To: tsmith130
God bless Mrs. Ferer.

If there were more people with her depth, love and patriotism, this would be a much better place.

8 posted on 07/05/2003 1:30:52 PM PDT by freedumb2003 (Peace through Strength)
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To: mystery-ak; ohioWfan
Pings to you both.
9 posted on 07/05/2003 2:06:08 PM PDT by Bradís Gramma (Become a monthly donor to Free Republic)
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Very moving. 9-11 was seminal event in many lives, even those who were not directly touched by it. It seems these troops know why they are in Iraq.
10 posted on 07/05/2003 2:15:39 PM PDT by TheDon
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Oh, Lordy. I pride myself on being one who doesn't cry easily, but this....
11 posted on 07/05/2003 2:21:31 PM PDT by A_perfect_lady (Let them eat cake.)
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
How very proud these people make me feel. Proud to be American, proud to know that in their grief they seek to comfort and reassure others.
12 posted on 07/05/2003 2:34:36 PM PDT by OldFriend ((BUSH/CHENEY 2004))
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl; cyncooper
Thank you for posting this, Ragtime.
13 posted on 07/05/2003 2:38:56 PM PDT by EllaMinnow
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Great post!
14 posted on 07/05/2003 2:39:28 PM PDT by cardinal4 (The Senate Armed Services Comm; the Chinese pipeline into US secrets)
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To: redlipstick
Thank you for the ping, red.

Very moving.
15 posted on 07/05/2003 3:15:50 PM PDT by cyncooper
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
16 posted on 07/05/2003 3:22:23 PM PDT by What Is Ain't
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To: Ben Hecks
Thank you for the link, Ben. Both MSNBC and Newsweek covered this? Maybe there's hope for the mainstream press.

Photo, caption below.
RED, WHITE & BLUE — With three American flags on board his F-15 Eagle, Lt. Col. Matt Meloy prepares for a mission at a forward deployed location in Southwest Asia. "I have two in the front of the canopy to represent my two kids and I carry one on me for my wife," said Meloy. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt D. Myles Cullen

17 posted on 07/05/2003 3:29:16 PM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl (We're in a global war on terrorism..If you want to call that a quagmire, do it. I don't.*Rummy* 6-30)
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To: tsmith130; jellybean; dorben; habs4ever; TheDon; A_perfect_lady; OldFriend; redlipstick; ...
My pleasure. Besides taking out a few thousand truly rotten bad guys - the troops are responsible for this:

Quotes from the grateful Iraqi people. Y

“Liberated from 35 years of stilted official TV glorifying Saddam Hussein, Iraqis are snatching up satellite dishes by the thousands. Cartoons, fitness programs, movies and commercials are flooding into Iraqi living rooms. These days, in fact, when a favorite show comes on, Iraqis on rooftops yell to neighbors to alert them.”
Associated Press, 6/25/03

“Please, find out all of Saddam’s crimes and let the whole world know about the reality of Saddam. He is the evilest man that I ever saw.”
Basima Hamid, whose husband was hanged by Saddam for studying to be a sheik, Knight Ridder, 6/24/03

“The Americans liberated the Iraqi people from a despotic regime from which they suffered a lot. The Iraqi people could not change that regime with their own hands or overthrow it with their available means. The Americans came and solved this problem quickly and easily and in a way that gladdened the Iraqis.”
Baghdad Al-Balat, an Iraqi newspaper, 6/18/03

“This is a new sense of freedom for us. We are not in a very secure society yet, but at least we can say whatever we like.”
Firas Behnam, in Baghdad, Knight Ridder, 6/23/03

“Saddam Hussein’s regime had banned free e-mail and live chat. Free e-mail would have dissuaded people from signing up for subscriptions to Iraqi Internet service providers. Now Iraqis are free to use the Internet as they like.”
Knight Ridder, 6/23/03

“As all industries are frozen, the Iraqis are now importing all kinds of things to make money. We are also no longer afraid that some official will force us to become partners and take part of our revenue.”
Muhsin Saadoun, operator of a taxi company and importer of cars in Baghdad, Agence France Presse, 6/22/03

“It was very expensive for Iraqis to buy cars and so the country was full of very old cars. The Iraqis now want to enjoy new cars.”
A salesman in Iraq, Agence France Presse, 6/22/03

“I will run for mayor. Because we have freedom.”
Dhirgham Najem, a 23-year-old busboy in Najaf, The New York Times, 6/22/03

“Interviews with dozens of Iraqis suggest that there is one force that unites them: an almost messianic belief in ‘demokratiya.’”
The New York Times, 6/22/03

“Look at Saddam here, they have painted his eyes. Now he cannot see anymore. We also tore all his pictures from our textbooks. I only left one portrait on my math textbook as a souvenir, but I put mascara on his eyes and colored his lips in red.”
Salam, a 10-year-old boy pointing to an old mural of Saddam in Baghdad, Agence France Presse, 6/21/03

“Why call us occupied? We are liberated.”
Mohammed Hanash Abbas, co-owner of Iqra’a bookstore in Baghdad, Associated Press, 6/17/03

“America has shown us compassion we never had from Saddam or fellow Arabs.”
Attallah Zeidan, co-owner of a small bookstore in Baghdad, Associated Press, 6/17/03

“Saddam would not allow us here; he would slay whoever came here. It’s freedom now!”
Salah Maadi Khafaji, an Iraqi swimming in a part of the Tigris that had been off limits to ordinary Iraqis, Los Angeles Times, 6/17/03

“I should have freedom to wear or not to wear the veil. I don’t want to let these people dictate my thoughts. I am an educated woman. I am a religious woman. I know my duties to God.”
Kawkab Jalil, a woman in Baghdad who decided to take off her veil, The Washington Post, 6/17/03

“When I leave my job at night, I am very happy, very proud about myself. We must help the Americans, and show them our traditions.”
Suhair Karmasha, the first Iraqi woman to work with the Americans at Baghdad’s city hall, The Washington Post, 6/17/03

“It was only an Arabic ten-pin bowling competition, but last week's tournament in the Gulf emirate of Qatar marked Iraq's first foray back into the international sporting arena since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein two months ago. Mahmood Abbas, the country's leading taekwondo coach, cannot wait to follow suit. Now, for the first time for nearly two decades, Iraqi players and trainers have no need to fear beatings or imprisonment if they fail to secure a high finish in an international competition or if one of their team-mates defects on an overseas trip.”
London Daily Telegraph, 6/15/03

18 posted on 07/05/2003 3:40:09 PM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl (We're in a global war on terrorism..If you want to call that a quagmire, do it. I don't.*Rummy* 6-30)
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19 posted on 07/05/2003 3:52:31 PM PDT by BlessedBeGod
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Thank you, Ragtime Cowgirl. I needed to read that.
20 posted on 07/05/2003 6:24:05 PM PDT by solzhenitsyn ("Live Not By Lies")
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