Thursday, September 29, 2005

Operation Rhma: Final Mission

Much world travel has convinced me that the “average American” is a good person. But even a good person needs information in order to act effectively on their best impulses. Oftentimes, good things do not happen simply because information does not make it to the right people.

I believe this was the case for a sick little Iraqi girl named Rhma. American “Deuce Four” soldiers found Rhma one night in Mosul. She needed serious medical attention. Doctors, nurses and others back in America, along with the soldiers in Mosul, worked diligently on behalf of this child, and eventually they generated the support required to get Rhma the treatment she desperately needed. But it wasn’t just Americans: I also saw offers come in from the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, among others.

These efforts helped recruit a team of good doctors and nurses in New Mexico willing to help Rhma free of charge. But even this required funding and arranging for travel and lodging for her and her mother. Quietly, Deuce Four soldiers mustered the money and time from their own busy lives to help this timid little Iraqi girl. On one level, the gesture was deeply symbolic. On another level, for Rhma, the matter was life and death. A soldier told me that when they informed Rhma’s mother of the good news, and she in turn told her daughter, Rhma said in response: “The Americans are going to take care of me.”

But as much as so many people wanted to care for Rhma, her case got caught up in one jam after another. She got stuck for about one month in Jordan. As they prepared to leave Iraq, knowing Rhma was still stuck in limbo that only delayed critical treatment, some Deuce Four soldiers brought up her plight again to me. As it happened, however, the US Embassy staff in Jordan had actually been quietly but persistently putting a great deal of work into getting Rhma to New Mexico.

The confusion and glitches were caused by “little gremlins” such as Rhma’s parents incorrectly filling out paperwork. Computers are computers; there were delays caused not by the staff, but rather resulting from misunderstandings about what needed to happen and when it needed to happen. These gremlins caused the delays, but the moment the Embassy staff realized these issues resulted from communication gremlins, they rectified them and got Rhma on her way.

I wrote about it, knowing that if Americans knew that Rhma was stuck in Jordan, our good people would not let that stand. Once again, the good and generous nature of average Americans glimmered the moment they found the problem. People all over the United States took it upon themselves to call their congressmen and senators, many of whom interceded on behalf of a sick little girl who had faith that Americans would take care of her.

I received a message this morning from Major Brown—the Deuce Four surgeon—that Rhma is finally on her way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Once there, Rhma will have a home to stay in, and doctors waiting to treat her heart condition. The Deuce Four soldiers who started this mission with Rhma, and who organized the organizers, and who brought her case to my attention when they had problems in Jordan, have, in a sense, completed their final mission. “Operation Rhma” is a success.

Perhaps a local journalist in New Mexico will pick up the thread of this story. Many of us would greatly like to follow Rhma’s journey to better health.