Can One Person Really Make A Difference?

That is something that is debated a lot.  I think the answer is yes.  Sometimes the difference is being a leader of a group.  Sometimes it is the actions of a single individual at the right time, and in the right place.

Over at Blackfive, they have had a number of guest writer’s from the ranks of Veterns for Freedom.  One of those is Kate Norely.  You can find the entire post here.  Because I think that this is a very important post, I am including the entire text below…

Ms. Norley is someone who has impressed me, and she will grab you as well.

Women to the front

Kate Norley

Iraq? I was there-no shit. Was going there something I had dreamt of  as a young girl? No it was not. But real things happen in real life. The reality of my life as a young, free, American woman came into focus the moment my country was attacked by terrorists on September 11,2001. It was at that moment I understood what people meant when describing finding one’s own purpose in life. I felt it.

A new willingness to commit myself to a cause I believed in, led me to make the best decision of my life-joining the United States Army. Some who knew me questioned my decision and doubted my ability to survive in the armed services. One thing I’ve learned is it’s too common, for people to make assumptions and form opinions about issues they know nothing about.

Well I was in Iraq and I know what I saw.

I served with the 1st Cavalry Division based out of Ft Hood, TX as a combat medic, my assigned responsibilities changed daily in accordance with the op tempo. Some days consisted of performing routine convoys, working sick call, providing medical care to wounded at various entrance gates of FOBS, sometimes working alongside Mortuary Affair teams in identifying bodies, but all too often to accompany combat patrols.

I was asked to join a civil affairs convoy and meet with local Iraqi women studying at the University of Baghdad Veterinary School. I immediately agreed not knowing just what the interaction would be, or the significance this chance meeting would ultimately have on my Several female Iraqi students had asked to speak freely with an American soldier of their gender. While a simple request, acting in response was a fairly tall order.

In order for this meeting to happen a willing, experienced female translator was essential, as well as perimeter security surrounding the University, the classroom, and also personal security providing safety for my presence once inside. I arrived in a classroom of 8 women (originally 20 had been in attendance, some left in fear of their own safety for purposely meeting with me) and felt like the Pope of Rome with the private security detail assigned me. Acting alone with solely my translator Layla (as she chose to be called while working alongside coalition forces), I stood before these women feeling blank. Aside from the classroom being so different from those I was familiar with, it seemed as if finding a starting point might be a bit tough-we were all nervous as hell!

So I un-slung my M-16 from my shoulder, removed my Kevlar, OTV, and without hesitation let down my hair from a fixed bun and smiled. Instantly, I was encompassed by smiles all around as the female students spoke to Layla asking for permission to be face-to-face with me. From there came a sort-of show and tell consisting of my hair being touched and analyzed, my hands examined, and a relay session of Q&A wrapped with more innocence and excitement than ever before. So much shock and awe felt for all there as we spoke freely with each other through the gift of Layla’s translation. Remember the times way back when of being encouraged to follow your dreams, no matter how far-off they may have seemed? Well seeing was believing that day over the exchange of shared hopes and learning of experiences detailing the beauty of freedoms once unimagined. While I didn’t exactly cite  anything remotely comparable to the “I Have A Dream” speech, I encouraged them as best I could to not give up in their own pursuit of happiness and a better life. I offered them motivation and promises of an existence and conditions other than that of cruel oppression. Never once suggesting the deterrence from Islam, but expressing the significance in learning of rights experienced by women outside of Iraq. In parting, we were no longer strangers. We ended on shared tears, smiles, and commitments from us all to never give up on ourselves.

Years later, deep memories of that day remained along with the desire to learn if improvements had been made in the lives of those women I had once met with; those fellow females, my friends. On March 10, 2008, I attended International Women’s Day hosted by our President at The White House. That day a handful of women from around the world were honored for a variety of accomplishments made despite the cultural practice of gender inequality. I recognized from the program provided that one of those to be honored was an Iraqi woman, and following the ceremony attended the reception in hopes of introducing myself as a former visitor who had met with Iraqi women. In the midst of those in attendance my eyes locked by chance with the Iraqi woman. With no exaggeration, time seemed to literally stop. Despite an unknown familiarity shared by us both and without any hesitation we approached one another.

At that moment, both eyes and mouths smiled as this women unveiled her appreciation for my visit several years back at the University of Baghdad. I couldn’t believe this was really happening!! “I never forgot what you said”, she spoke in perfect English. It was then we reached out to embrace in the midst of heavy tears. What are the chances of both our paths crossing again? Not to mention the likelihood of being in attendance at The White House unknowingly for the honor of a friend once surviving under agonizing conditions. I listened as this beautiful woman beamed with courage and happiness. She explained after having met, she was determined to better the life of herself and her family by researching the freedoms experienced by women from around the world and the influence they were able to have in  their own community by doing so. From that she pushed herself through school and earned her degree as a PhD. Hearing this news all the while seeing into her eyes was the proof of success. It was real, and I felt it too.

Now, another interesting story coming out of Iraq last week here.   For continuity’s sake, here is that story as well.

3/6 recruits ‘Sisters’ in Ameriyah, Ferris

AMERIYAH-FERRIS, Iraq  —The training program designed to strengthen Iraqi Security Forces and employ women in the fight against terrorist activity has expanded in Al Anbar province as several new recruits graduated and became the Sisters of Ameriyah-Ferris here on June 5.

Previous graduates of the Sisters of Fallujah program work at multiple entry control points into the city to disrupt insurgent efforts to use women to transport contraband into the city of Fallujah. The Sisters of Amariyah-Ferris is the first group trained outside of Fallujah within the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines’ area of operations.

The Sisters participated in classes held near the towns of Ameriyah and Ferris. 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines was augmented by the female search teams of Combat Logistics Battalion 1 who came out and taught the five-day training.

To thoroughly train the new Sisters to assist Iraqi Police, the Sisters studied topics such as police ethics, human rights, women’s issues, working in a terrorist environment, female searches and first aid. The Sisters also performed live-fire training with AK-47 rifles and 9mm pistols as a confidence booster. The final stage before graduation involved putting their newly learned skills to the test with on-the-job training at entry control points to Ferris Town.

“In contrast to Fallujah, which already has female search points, this will be a first for Ferris, meaning the women here are starting from scratch,” said 1st Lt. Kathryne Schilling, officer in charge of the training, who is overseeing her third class of Sisters with 3rd Bn., 6th Marines. The women were taught very basic skills since the idea of women providing security alongside all the male Iraqi Police is new to Ferris.

Schilling and the CLB-1 Marines also addressed the issue of women protecting themselves while performing a dangerous job such as this. Ferris is a small but dense city that is home to approximately 30,000 people, with only one way in and out. The Marines went over different tactics to deter the unique threats against them in Ferris.

One of the new graduates said the Iraqi Police of Ferris Town told her about this job opportunity. She said this is her first job and it is a new challenge that she is happy and brave enough to take on.

“I joined to help the Iraqi Police and to help my family,” she said. “I’m proud to get this job. I’m proud to help the Iraqi Police. I’m going to make the city safer. I can prevent illegal passengers in the city. I’m so proud, I’m so happy.”

I am thinking that there is strong link here between these stories.  But what I would really like to know is who came up with this program to open the Iraqi cultural blinders?  Who is currently orchestrating it?  That is one of the people that needs to be recognized for their achievements in winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people with activities like these.  Exposure to ideas and activities that may be “foreign” to these women is turning out to be a key factor to their ability to influence the culture, and success of Iraq.

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