Category Archives: humanitarian


Adoption: The True Heroes are the children

(Upper right) Lolita, myself, my wife Julie and Mary in Riga, Latvia, throwing keys off Lock Bridge Aug. 24, 2014. Lock Bridge is special to many adoptive families, who write their names on a lock and throw the keys in the water to signify a pact has been made that the family and adopted child will stay together forever.

By Bill Sammons (as told to Melissa LeGates)

Time is running out for millions of orphans worldwide, who will age out of orphanages and foster care, and find themselves homeless. We were blessed to provide one of them with a happy ending and a forever home. It was a long journey to get here but worth every minute of heartache. This is our story.

If adoption is a roller coaster, and it is, then we completely jumped the tracks in September 2013.

For more than a year, my wife Julie and I had been trying to adopt Irada, a young teenager living in a Ukrainian orphanage.

We hosted her in our home for four weeks through a non-profit called Project 143, a program that facilitates orphan children from Latvia, Ukraine and China to visit a host’s home over the summer or winter holidays.

Project 143 runs their “Hope Program” to give children a chance to experience life in a nurturing and stable family environment. The program has a special emphasis on hosting older children, children with special needs and sibling sets because these are the ones most overlooked.

They are not an adoption agency, and not everyone who hosts a child adopts that child. That is not their end goal; however, Project 143 is a great way to get to know if a child matches your family dynamics before taking that big step into adoption.

Our first hosting experience

When we hosted Irada, we fell in love with her.

Somewhere along the line, she started calling us mom and dad, and even changed her last name on her social media sites to ours.

So we rushed forward with the paperwork to adopt her before she would age out of the system. When I put her on the plane to go back to the Ukraine, I feared I may never see her again because of all the hoops you have to jump through to adopt.

I just never dreamed it would be by her choice.

Every adoption has its trials

Then, one day out of the blue, my wife received a message that Irada had changed her mind and decided to stay with her friends in the Ukraine.

We went into grieving mode. We were also mad. And sad. And confused.

I decided my heart could not stand another loss and thought I wanted off the adoption roller coaster completely.

Learning how to dream

However, my wife was a different story. One day she saw a picture of a teen girl from Latvia waiting to be hosted through Project 143.

She told me there was just “something special” going on in Lolita’s eyes that captured her, so she forwarded her picture to me. I decided that I was willing to get back on that hamster wheel to provide this girl with a good home and shot at living a decent life protected by a family who would love and support her.

Some people ask why did we adopt a teen?

I jokingly tell them, “I am too old to adopt a baby”. But really I’m too old to adopt a baby at 57.

We purposely decided to adopt an older child because generally people do not want them. And, they still need homes and supportive parents for the rest of their lives – not just until they reach age 18.

We didn’t want or need to start from scratch again. A teen was a much better fit for our entire family, especially for our daughter Mary, who is still young. We also wanted Mary to have an older sister.

My other two sons have families and lives of their own now. They no longer need my guidance as much, but I still love having kids around.

I especially love kids who were not blessed with moms and dads, homes and sports programs, and a community support system.

I like helping kids learn that they are loved and that it is okay to love back.

Most of all, I like helping them learn how to dream!

Plan B

It’s easy to romanticize adoption, and we did to some extent. However, I assure you the romance of adoption is short-lived and real-life remains.

My wife and I have always kept in mind that adoption is not a fairy tale ending for the child. It is “Plan B” for adopted children.

It is second best for their life, and it would not be needed if Plan A had worked out with their birth parents and families.

Instead of being a fairy tale, adoption is more like an epic battle.

It is a life or death battle for the body and soul of a child. One we had never met but knew we already loved.

Combatting sex trafficking and child slavery through adoption

Adopting orphans also helps to fight a huge global problem – sex trafficking and child slavery.

These children in orphanages around the world have no options and no one to care for them or about them.

In the Ukraine, six out of 10 girls, who age out of orphanages, end up in prostitution or being trafficked. Seven out of 10 teen boys who age out enter into a life of crime just to survive.

The numbers of orphans are unfathomable

In 2010, Project 143 was established and aptly named after the estimated 143 million orphans in the world.

That number continues to grow.

Our Lolita, also called Lola, was one of them. Not anymore! She officially took our last name Nov. 19, 2014 and her adoption was final Dec. 15.

She is our happy surprise at the end of the adoption roller coaster. ­­

If I could have custom-ordered a daughter from the Sears Roebuck catalog, she would be it. She is gracious, kind and loving.

She will do great things in this world, and we look forward to celebrating her accomplishments with her as she grows into a young woman.

I adore this girl as much as I adore my Mary, my Josh and my Nick. In my heart, she is not my adopted daughter.

She is my daughter, period.

A divine tasking

The Bible is clear that we are supposed to take care of orphans (James 1:27). We are each called in different ways to accomplish that task. We opened our home but many others helped support us emotionally and financially.

Some people hear our story and treat us like heroes. But I assure you, we are not.

We are not any more special than the next guy, and to be totally honest, we winged this entire adoption thing.

We got through this difficult two-year process because we serve a mighty God. During our darkest times (and there were many), we cried out to him often. Our faith carried us through because we were not, and are not, big enough to do it on our own.

Adoptive families raise money and tell their stories on social media and blog sites, but the kids are the amazing ones.

The true heroes of the story

These kids are tough. They are survivors.

They leave their environment, friends and everything familiar to them to travel half way around the world…praying and hoping for a better life and people who truly love them. They have no guarantees.

They go to a new school. Many have to learn a new language. They have to assimilate into a new family and learn to care for people they barely know.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, simultaneously they have struggle against their own history of abandonment (and for some the aftermath of the horrors of war, abuse, dysfunction, drug use, etc.), just to get through the day…then the next day.

They are the ones we should celebrate! They are the true heroes!

For Julie and me, it was stressful but a whole lot easier mentally and spiritually. Our hearts were broken—cracked wide open—in preparation to love one of God’s little ones.

He called. We answered.

Adoption is a blessing

We have been immensely blessed throughout our epic adoption battle. We now have a second beautiful daughter whom we love and she loves us back.

Along the way, we have met people we might never have encountered otherwise. They have poured into our lives, helping us financially and emotionally, and we are all richer for it.

As much as we would like to, Julie and I cannot cure the adoption epidemic in the world. But for now, we knew we could help one child.

We are honored to call Lolita our daughter, and we will love her intensely and unconditionally as Jesus loves all of us.

If you would like to learn more about Project 143, go to


Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at

my husband and I

His and her story: Surviving heart disease, getting a second chance at life

By Chris and Melissa LeGates

His story:  Support the AMA. You may need them someday; I did at 48

I am two years shy of 50. So when I experienced shooting pains going through my arms while watching television this July 4, I thought it would pass.

Then all the sudden, it literally felt like an elephant jumped on my chest. I could barely breathe, and I told my wife to take me to the hospital.

I know – bad idea! I already got the lecture at the hospital from the nurses: always call for an ambulance. So why didn’t I?

Well the short answer is I never suspected I was having a heart attack.

Abnormal symptoms

For the past year, doctors had been trying to find the origin of those shooting pains, especially in my elbows. Three different doctors had diagnosed me with pinched nerves and essentially told me there was nothing I could do except take medicine to ease the inflammation or get surgery. I didn’t want to get surgery so I just put up with the pain.

My blood pressure was good and my cholesterol was low.

Other than smoking (and eating crappy food as my wife liked to point out often), I was healthy as an ox – or so I thought.

Unimaginable pain

On the way to the hospital, the pain got worse. I kept chanting over and over again, “Please just let me get to the hospital. Don’t let me die.”

I couldn’t even walk into the ER. I collapsed on the sidewalk outside, and I literally couldn’t move my arms and legs.

My wife ran inside, and nurses came out to wheel me in to the ER.

From there, it felt like an eternity until they gave me something to relieve the pain. In reality, it was probably about a half an hour of pure torture waiting for test results.

Initially, they told us there was an abnormality on the EKG but they didn’t think I was having a heart attack.

Then they gave me morphine, and I was half in and out of consciousness. I just kept saying “Thank you. Thank you”. I was just happy to get rid of that pain.

Then about an hour later, they came back in and said the test showed blood markers for a heart attack, and they were calling in the cardio cath lab to open me up and check for a blockage.

My wife says I signed paperwork and verbally gave them permission to do surgery, but I honestly don’t remember any of it.

I woke up in a hospital bed the next morning without my clothes and my wife…wondering what the heck had happened. I had no idea I even had an operation until the nurse told me.

The next two days were scary.

Surviving a widow maker heart attack

I had experienced a widow maker heart attack, which means the largest valve in my heart was completely blocked. They say most people don’t survive a widow maker, hence the nickname.

That is sobering to know that if I hadn’t made it to the hospital when I did I would be dead.

The next day I was told my heart was only operating at 30 percent of its strength. I didn’t like hearing that.

I’m too young! This cannot be happening

I cannot say I never thought about this day coming. I think every smoker does in the back of their mind, but I did not think I would have to deal with health stuff like this until at least 20 years from now.

I have smoked ever since I was 16. Through the years, I would tell myself I had time to quit smoking and repair my body before I got old.

I even watched my step-father die from smoke-related cancer and environmental poisoning in his 50s.

It devastated my mother.

When he was dying in the hospital, he begged me to stop smoking but of course I didn’t.

Smoking was cool.

It was what my friends and many of my family members were doing in the 1980s. It is what my co-workers and I did to release stress at break time every day since then.

All three of my children still smoke. We have had many of conversations over the lite end of a cigarette that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Smoking is a low key way to bond with people and that is probably the hardest benefit to lose.

However, I am a Christian. I knew God didn’t want me to smoke, and I was slowly tearing down the temple He built. I was ashamed of my smoking but it still didn’t stop me from doing it.

I even quit for months at a time but I just never quite succeeded until the day of my heart attack.

A simple choice: Quite or Die?

The day after my emergency surgery the cardio doctor came in to visit me. He looked me and said, “Do you plan to quit smoking?” I said “yes” but I’m sure he has heard many patients say the same thing and not quit.

He replied, “Good. Because you can either quit smoking and live, or keep smoking and die. The choice is yours.”

I wish I could say I quit for God, my wife, kids or some other noble cause but I didn’t.

It was the pain.

Words don’t do it justice; I never want to go through that kind of pain again.

If I can change so can you!

It was time to make some serious changes in my life. Now, I am one of those annoying people that lecture others about smoking if they give me a half a chance.

My grandfather had a heart attack in his 50s and my uncle in his 40s. My dad is a survivor of heart disease as well.

After my grandfather had a heart attack, he became kind of a health fanatic. He watched what he ate and used to walk religiously to keep in shape. He lived another fifty years after his heart attack.

So I knew it could be done.

I feel great!

I currently feel better than I ever have in my life. People don’t believe me when I tell them I had a heart attack this summer.

I credit that to God bringing me through and the care from the nursing staff and the cardio rehab folks at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

I was lucky, and I know it. Many people don’t get a second chance.

About 2,150 Americans die each day from these diseases, one every 40 seconds. Each one of those people had family and friends mourning them. That is a lot of unnecessary grief.

Here are a few more facts. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans…# 1 killer.

More than 787,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2010. That’s about one of every three deaths in America.

If I had to do it differently, I would have never picked up that first cigarette 30 some years ago but no one can turn back time.

What I can do is never pick up another cigarette again.

I pray my three children stop smoking now! I pray that my grandchildren never start! I pray that my friends and family kick the habit!

Support me: Please donate

And, I can support the American Heart Association.

That’s why two Saturdays from now (Oct. 18), I am walking for the AMA Southern Delaware Heart Walk in Georgetown.

So please consider donating money to my AMA page at

The American Heart Association provides people with information, inspiration, recipes and the latest research. You can check them out at

Don’t become a statistic! Donate to AMA and choose life!

Her story:  Support heart disease survivors even if you want to strangle them

When my husband asked me to walk for the American Heart Association this October, I looked at him like he sprouted a third eye and jokingly said “who took over your body and where did you hide my husband?”

In many ways, it has felt like I’m married to another man than the one that had a heart attack this July 4th.

Actually this new and improved man is the one I thought I was marrying when we met on a dating web site years ago.

One of my chief criteria in a mate was absolutely no smoking.  My dad smoked in the house when I was growing up, and I hated it.

I vowed to never marry a smoker, and Chris reassured me he didn’t smoke anymore.

Big tobacco companies are the only ones who benefit from cigarettes and they are laughing all the way to the bank

We married in early November 2009. By late November, we faced a stressful family crisis and he resumed smoking.

I was livid but what could I do.

As a non-smoking spouse, you always feel like your significant other cares more about puffing up that expensive pack of cigarettes than they do you. The smoker, of course, doesn’t see it that way and feels you should support them no matter what.

It is a no win situation.

The only one who actually wins in the nicotine racket is the huge companies pushing cigarettes.

What other business can get their customers addicted, turn their teeth yellow until they fall out, and still people willing line up to pay them over a $100 to $200 a month for a product that ultimately maims or kills them?

It is called addiction; it is just a legal form of it.

We argued about his smoking often over the years but I finally gave up. I realized nagging him wouldn’t stop him so I turned my anger and concerns over to God. It wasn’t easy.

I also continued to pray and petition God for him to be released from this horrible cycle.

Almost widowed at 44

In the back of my mind, I feared I would be a widow by 50 because of his poor health choices. For some reason, I just carried those negative premonitions with me even though I know many smokers live into their 70s and 80s.

Ironically, my husband had bought Rick Warren’s new cookbook and Christian prayer guide called “The Daniel Plan” — on his own without my nagging or urging — a month earlier. He also got really interested in researching the Mediterrean diet.

I was ecstatic. My prayers were being answered, and we were all set to get healthy.

We had even outlined a specific timeline for him to quit smoking, for us to start this new lifestyle diet together and for both of us to start exercising more.

Then Boom out of nowhere I find myself watching my husband literally have a heart attack in front of me on a hospital bed in the Seaford ER.

I suspected on to the way to the hospital he was having a heart attack but we are so young it was hard to believe death was knocking at our door.

Sponge bath at 40

Two days later, we hit another milestone in our marriage, when I gave him a wet wipe “sponge” bath in his hospital room – and not the sexy kind either.

It was sobering to realize my husband was so weak, he couldn’t even bathe himself.

That is something most women don’t have to even think about until their 60s or later. We were in our 40s.

Both of us worried what else was in store for us?

At that point, he didn’t even know if he could work again – let alone ride a bike, run after our grandsons or travel around the world like we dreamed about.

Luckily for us, God still has more for him to do on this earth, and he has fully recovered.

He will have to take six different types of medicine for the rest of his life and carry nitroglycerin with him wherever he goes. But he is fine for now.


But for a few long hours that first night, I really didn’t know if he would die all alone on a cold, steel operating table or recover from this.

It is a horrible, numbing feeling and in the back of your mind lurks unexpressed anger.

Yes, I said anger.

My husband did this to himself. How could he be so selfish?

And the worst part is as a family member you aren’t even allowed to be outwardly angry because your loved one is in pain.  And, you are supposed to be nice to people in pain.

So instead I smiled, hugged him, kissed him but inside I just wanted to “lovingly” wack him a good one.

If I wasn’t so afraid it would stop his heart, I might have done it.

We aren’t helpless against heart disease

I know I am not the only one in this position so I wanted to tell my story to reassure men and women who love a smoker, there is hope!

I believe the most powerful thing you can do is to pray for those smokers in your life and just love on them.

Most smokers I have met don’t want to smoke (if they truly admit it) but feel powerless to stop (which they will never admit to anyone even themselves).

I also try to remember smoking isn’t the only risk factor for heart disease.

So is being over-weight, and I have struggled with yo-yo weight loss and gain all my life. I’m currently on the gain side.

I have never met a cupcake I don’t like.

So I know excessive sugar intake is another key factor in creating heart inflammation, as well as eating crappy, high cholesterol food.

It starts with you

In the end, the only thing you really can do is change your lifestyle and hope it rubs off on others.

Personally, we have completely eradicated soda from our house, although we drink it as a treat when we are out. Unfortunately, we still crave it; I pray those cravings go away someday.

Instead at home, we drink reduced-sugar iced tea and water.

Now I realize that is a crime in Sussex County where super-syrupy sweet tea (usually one to two cups of sugar per gallon) rules the day and pretzel salad is considered a side dish on the par with broccoli and green beans.

Just try arguing with a Sussex Countian that pretzel salad is in fact a dessert, and you will have a cat fight on your hands.

You may have figured out I’m an out-a-stater infiltrating the ranks and married to one of the few native Delawareans left. I get knocked around enough for being a PA’er so it is time for a little ribbing back.

I used to make iced tea for our family with a cup of sugar per gallon (which BTW is the recommended sugar ratio for sweet tea recipes), and when my eldest step-daughter tasted it, she literally spit it out and exclaimed there was barely any sugar in it. Then she stirred in even more sugar before drinking it.

Once again I repeat, it had an entire cup of sugar per gallon. That’s a lot.

So reducing down to two thirds a cup of the sweet stuff per gallon is a big deal for my husband!

We are slowly changing our diet for the better and believe in moderation in everything we do.

And, we don’t put any foods off limit. We still eat bacon occasionally but we eat more fish and have cut out or reduced most white food stuff (primarily white sugar, potatoes and bread).

Now we are eating brown: wheat bread and brown rice. We also try to eat fresh and shop from the produce aisle.

What we have learned

I know this sounds weird but his heart attack has been one of the best things that has happened to us as a couple. We are more in tune with each other. We are kinder to each other.

We both better appreciate the value and fragility of life.

And, my husband continues to surprise me. Since his recovery, he has tried Indian and Thai food…something he would have never done before.

We plan on buying bikes and finding fun ways to fit more exercise into our lives. We are embracing this new lifestyle change, and it doesn’t feel like a punishment…more like a reward.

Support the American Heart Association: Donate Now!

Chris is the youngest person in his rehab group by about 20 years, and he has started encouraging the other rehab-ers to change their diet without sacrificing their taste buds.

This is also one of the core missions of the American Heart Association.

The AMA educates people on how to take their life back after surviving heart disease. They share a lot of information on their website at and their You Tube channel at

They even have a cooking channel called “Simple Cooking with heart”. You can subscribe to it at

If you lost anyone to heart disease or know someone struggling with it now, the AMA is a great resource and a great non-profit to support.

I am proud of my husband wanting to walk with his rehab buddies to support the fight because heart disease is preventable for the most part.

You can help too! Please consider donating to his AMA page at  There is also still time for you to sign up to walk yourself at

There are two walks scheduled for this month: Oct 18 at the Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown and Oct 25 at DTCC in Dover. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m. both days.

From our heart to yours, may God bless you and thank you for taking the time to read our story! Feel free to share it with others.

‘Mechanics of All Trades’ Maintain Equipment

I must admit I have a soft spot for women who break through societal barriers to accomplish great things. Staff Sgt. Michele Calton is one of those woman, and she is beautiful to boot.

U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz
U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

ALI BASE, Iraq, Aug. 26, 2005 — When Staff Sgt. Michele Calton spotted a stranded elderly woman whose car had broken down with smoke streaming from under the hood, her first instinct was not to call someone else for help.

She calmly got out of her car in her 4-inch heels and skirt that she wore for a girls’ night out a few months ago, lifted up the hood of the steaming vehicle and reconnected a loose radiator hose.

Then she handed the woman her cell phone so she could call home before she drove the woman to purchase more antifreeze.

It is all simple stuff to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment airman, who picked up her mechanical skills in the Air Force.

“I credit the military for all my gained knowledge,” Sergeant Calton said. “I probably would have never attempted to close that gap (and learn how to fix machinery) because of the perception this career field carries.”

Sergeant Calton said she sometimes thinks women feel it is too difficult to understand all the moving parts inside engines and how they all tie together. After all, she said before technical school she classified herself as “mechanically challenged.”

“Once you learn the fundamentals of an engine, it’s actually quite simple,” Sergeant Calton said. “The ‘big metal mess’ under the hood starts to take the form of a starter, alternator, radiator, etc.”

Referring to themselves as “mechanics of all trades,” Sergeant Calton and her colleagues have to learn a little bit about everything, because not only do they deliver the equipment to their customers, they maintain it as well.

They quickly figure out how to fix light carts, ground diesel generators, mobile air-conditioning units, air compressors, hydraulic test stands and an assortment of small machinery that support aircraft operations.

Even though they fix some specialized equipment, AGE Airmen consider themselves maintainers foremost.

“I’m a mechanic; I can work on a truck right along side my fiancé,” Sergeant Calton said.

She realizes that her presence in a mostly male-dominated career field is often shocking.

“When people see me, it’s not expected,” said Sergeant Calton, who is from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. “However, I like the fact I get to know all this information. It’s pretty awesome to be able to work on these things.

“I have a (better) understanding how they actually work individually and how they come together to achieve the end result of starting your car or applying power to an aircraft,” she said.

For another AGE airman, it is important to learn the basics so he can apply them to fix just about anything.

“When it boils down to it, it’s all about remembering the basics — where’s the source power, air, hydraulic pressure, etc.,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Barraza, noncommissioned officer in charge of the AGE shop, who is also deployed from Luke.

“AGE is all about problem and solution solving,” he said.

Although AGE craftsman spend a lot of time elbow-deep in grease and wires, they also get out from “under the hood” to talk with their customers.

During her visits, Sergeant Calton said aircrews often show her pictures on their digital cameras of the people and places they see when the C-130 Hercules leaves here.

“When you see the pictures of where the aircraft has been, whether it dropped off humanitarian supplies or troops going home, it’s a great feeling knowing you helped it get there,” she said.

AGE is often a secondary thought in mission success, but without their equipment, transportation could not fix the Humvees security forces use to patrol the base and outside area to keep more than 8,000 U.S. servicemembers and coalition forces safe in this area.

“I rely heavily on AGE (light carts) to provide our lighting for the 24/7 maintenance operations here,” said Senior Master Sgt. Konrad Delger, 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s vehicle management flight chief from the Nevada Air National Guard. “Also, without their support (of an air compressor) the entire Air Force vehicle fleet here would have been driving around on flat tires.”

Even though AGE Airmen are more than happy to help out people in other units who occasionally need their equipment, their primary mission is supporting aircraft maintainers.

Without their generators the aircraft would have to burn through precious fuel to produce electricity.

“Our main piece of equipment is the (-86) diesel generator set,” Sergeant Barraza said. “That’s our prized possession for AGE out here. It allows aircraft mechanics to maintain and run system checks on aircraft.”

AGE craftsmen provide around-the-clock service, 365 days a year.

“Without AGE, we could not fly the mission or do proper maintenance on aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Jeff Wiedeman, 777th EAMXS production superintendent, who is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

“We use the power units (air/electrical) to power the aircraft, so we can use the different systems (like the) interior lighting (and for) trouble shooting all maintenance problems from hydraulics (that lift the aircraft’s flaps), engines and all electrical systems,” he said

Realizing other agencies depend on the equipment to get their job done is a source of satisfaction for Sergeant Calton, who said she was happy to deploy here to have a closer effect on the war on terrorism.

“When I see the aircraft take off and come back, I know that’s a result of our equipment working properly,” she said.

Knowing she can fix equipment, which powers up million-dollar aircraft, has given her the confidence to fix other mechanical items.

Since her training, she seems to have a soft spot for stopping to help those in broken-down vehicles. Before she deployed here, she pulled over to help a 16-year-old girl with a flat tire.

“I pulled out my tool box from my car along with my coveralls (once again I was dressed up, heels and all). Then I showed her how to change a tire,” Sergeant Calton said.

Sergeant Calton said she loves her job because she likes being thrown into a situation where she has to figure out a solution.

“This job is great if you love to attack a challenge,” Sergeant Calton said. “Units come in broke, and you have to figure out what’s wrong with them, fix them and send them back out on their way to take care of the mission.

Servicemember in Iraq serves to help the ‘good guys’ win

I rarely wrote many commentaries while I was in the Air Force. I am a behind the scenes type of gal so I prefer to tell other people’s stories – not my own. But this one has a special place in my heart. Sometimes it is easy to forget what military service really means and this commentary captures my feelings.


A picture of a little Bedouin girl in the desert outside of An Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is probably looking at the first stuffed animal she has ever been given. Photo by Maurice Hessel July 2007
A picture of a little Bedouin girl in the desert outside of An Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is probably looking at the first stuffed animal she has ever been given. Photo by Maurice Hessel July 2007
Here a young Airman tries to communicate with a Iraqi mother and her child while on patrol near An Nasiriyah, Iraq July 2007. The vast majority of the U.S. Air Force missions around the world are humanitarian in nature. Photo by Maurice Hessel.

By Master Sgt. Melissa Phillips, Special to American Forces Press Service (former name) 

WASHINGTON, D.C. July 13, 2007 — Before I left for my current deployment, an 8-year-old asked me out of the blue, “Why do you have to go to Iraq?” It stopped me in my tracks.

I remember thinking, “How can I possibly answer such an immense question without somehow tainting her view on this unpredictable world?”

When I deployed to Southwest Asia in 2002, a fellow Airman told me that he explained to his daughter why he had to deploy by telling her, “Daddy has to go help feed the camels in the desert.”

After about two months into his tour, he said, his 4-year-old told him on a telephone call, “Daddy, someone else needs to feed the camels. I want you to come home.”

I thought that was such a cute, bittersweet story, but I knew the camel trick definitely was not going to work on the well-informed 8-year-old bookworm who posed the question to me.

I wanted to say something profound and comforting, but I was at a loss to answer her. After all, I was headed for a war zone where people don’t always come back alive, and there is no easy explanation to ease the worries of family and friends.

After a few ums and ahhs, I heard myself tell her, “We have to help the good guys fight the bad guys who are trying to hurt them.”

She seemed satisfied with the response, gave me a beaming smile and ran off to play. I sat there stunned.

I had been trying to avoid thinking about the reason why I was going back to Iraq.

After my conversation with her, I thought, “Is it really that simple? Do good guys still win in our universe? Can U.S. and coalition forces really help a nation of people overcome their differences to rebuild a stable country? Who exactly are the good and bad guys?”

In reality, I know there isn’t a black-and-white answer to these questions. That’s hard to accept by a nation of Americans who pride themselves on their logical and forward-thinking mind set.

To servicemembers’ advantage, we are used to operating in the grey. While it’s unfortunate, and although we do our best to avoid it, it’s accepted there will be collateral damage in war.

Lives will be lost. Families and innocent people will be hurt on both sides. I don’t like that reality. However, I firmly believe we are doing more good in Iraq and Afghanistan than harm.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

I’ve witnessed children receiving the first stuffed animal or toy they’ve ever had, and I’ve seen their eyes light up. I’ve seen thirsty and hungry people barely surviving in blistering 130-degree heat receive life-sustaining supplies.

I know most Americans don’t have the opportunity to witness the endless parade of care packages that family members send their loved ones to give to the Iraqi people: shoes, clothes, wet wipes, diapers, food and more. I had the privilege to see the goodness in people on both sides, despite the harsh conditions that brought them together.

Many military members, and those who support them, are personally invested in helping the Iraqi people.

We admire Iraqis who are forging ahead to make their country a better place, even though they and their family members are targeted for accepting the responsibility to secure their future.

Insurgents don’t recognize freedom of speech, nor do they value human life. They don’t seek a compromise with their countrymen or neighbors for the greater good of their collective society. They are the bad guys.

Not only is our mission to destroy the bad guys, the U.S. military spends a huge hunk of time on humanitarian missions. We patch up Iraqi and Afghanistan children when they’re sick or hurt. We provide medical services that a vast majority of people could never afford on their own, and might not have access to if they could.

We build hospitals, schools and a myriad of facilities that directly improve their lives and will continue to do so long after the U.S. and coalition presence is gone and this war is in the history books.

The success stories are rarely told in the media, but they occur every day. I knew that from my last tour in Iraq, but I was still confused about how I felt about this war.

Now, when anyone asks me why I’m in Iraq, I know what to say.

I’m here to help the good guys win. It’s that simple.

(Phillips of the U.S. Air Force is deployed to Iraq from the 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.)

Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail

Iraqi Boy to Receive Heart Surgery in U.S.

By Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips, USAF (former name) 
Special to American Forces Press Service

ALI BASE, Iraq, Aug. 23, 2005 – Eight-year-old Baher looks like a happy, healthy boy on the outside. But the members of the combined Iraqi and U.S. Air Force C-130 aircrew who flew him on the first leg of his journey out of Iraq Aug. 22 know he isn’t healthy — at least for now.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Eight-year-old Baher and his mother, Afaf, board the C-130 aircraft that took them on the first leg of the long journey to New Orleans, where Baher will have heart surgery at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Baher and his mother, Afaf, are headed to New Orleans to have a hole in his heart repaired through a new program called “Operation Mend a Heart.”

“I was very happy to (be a part of the aircrew to) help him,” said Iraqi air force navigator Atiya, Squadron 23 (Transport).

Atiya was one the C-130 crewmembers who flew Baher from Baghdad International Airport to Basrah Air Station on the first leg of his journey.

Atiya, who has three sons, ages 11, 10 and 5, of his own, held Baher on his lap to show him the airplane’s control panel.

In Basrah, a team of Army civil affairs specialists from the Humanitarian Operation Center in Kuwait was waiting to whisk the family to Kuwait to pick up the proper visas and paperwork.

Later in the week, the mother and son are to board a plane headed for their ultimate destination — Tulane University Hospital and Clinic, where Baher will undergo surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.

Tulane is donating the $100,000 surgery. Operation Mend a Heart is facilitating the effort between Tulane, the U.S. military, and coalition forces.

More than 10 different U.S. and coalition military and civilian agencies will have a part in getting Baher to New Orleans for the life-saving surgery.

“Let’s just say it’s a network of inspired people,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark N. Matthews Sr., of 90th Regional Readiness Command, at Camp Pike, Ark. Matthews helped facilitate intra-theater airlift and began dreaming of ways to help Iraqi children with heart problems. Even though he currently isn’t in the Middle East, he helped smooth over logistical bumps and get the right people involved.

The Ali Base C-130 aircrew had only a short portion of the mission, but it left a lasting impression. “This was the first (advisory support team) mission that flew humanitarian airlift for their country,” said Maj. Bob May, a Squadron 23 advisory support team pilot instructor assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here.

May was the copilot and an Iraqi officer piloted the aircraft. “It was a great feeling being able to do this together with so many Iraqi crewmembers on board,” he added.

At the end of the trip, the U.S. crewmembers asked one of the Iraqis to translate their well wishes to the mother and son. “We asked the translator to tell them it was an honor for us to be able to help him,” said May, who has a son Baher’s age.

“When Baher and his mother were driving away, they were all big smiles,” May said. “It’s good to know you’re making an impact and doing something good for other people.”

That spirit of kindness is what moved Matthews, who started the seeds for the idea of the organization, while helping a 5-year-old Iraqi girl named Noor get airlifted to Kuwait aboard a Japanese aircraft earlier this year. The story garnered wide acclaim and recognition through the recently deceased reporter Peter Jennings.

“On a phone call home, I described how humbled I was to have been a part of helping Noor,” Matthews said. “Later, the organization came up with the phrase, ‘You must have a heart, to save a heart.'”

The program’s long list of supporters includes Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. “The people behind Operation Mend a Heart understand that one way we can support our troops is by supporting the people they are fighting for, the children of Iraq,” Landrieu said in a press release. “Operation Mend a Heart will help provide the humanitarian medical assistance to the underprivileged children of Iraq who would otherwise not have access to the pediatric medical and surgical care they need.”

During the expected four-week recovery period after the surgery, an Iraqi professor at Tulane will host Baher and his mother. They’re expected to return to Iraq in October.

For many of those involved, the intense logistical coordination required by U.S. and coalition military personnel is indicative of a key role the U.S. military plays in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but that is often downplayed in the news.

“Most Americans think of our military in combat roles,” said Operation Mend a Heart program founder Karen Troyer-Caraway, who is also vice president of Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. “Many Americans do not realize that our military mission also includes humanitarian assistance, rebuilding communities, and investing in the future.

“Operation Mend a Heart is ordinary Americans helping the U.S. military accomplish their mission.”

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips is assigned to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group.)