Determined to get on her feet again
Stars and Stripes May 19, 2008
ARABIA, Iraq — Twice a week, the convoy of soldiers motor their clunky armored vehicles down the little dirt lane leading to a nondescript row of rundown homes.
The soldiers aren’t on the trail of a bad guy, sweeping through to clear a room or looking for leads. Yet these weekly trips to the neighborhood of Arabia are as routine as their meetings with local tribal leaders or conducting raids.
"It’s still a mission," said Sgt. George Sumrall, a soldier with the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.
At Patrol Base Assassin, southeast of Baghdad, the soldiers of Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment are making sure that one of the local residents, whose legs were severed by errant enemy mortar fire, is getting to her physical therapy appointments.
Three years ago, 19-year-old Suham Hassan Ka-Naan lost both her legs when a mortar landed on her home. Back in August, Troop A soldiers found her while conducting a raid through the neighborhood. Since then, the unit has helped her get her fitted for prosthetics and learn how to walk.
Now she needs to build up her strength so that so she can walk unassisted.
At the base’s small health clinic, she exercises on the parallel bars, does stepping exercise and sit-ups. The therapy is grueling, but she’s making progress.
"I’m so happy about what’s happening. I’m building up a lot of muscles," said Suham.
Because her legs were severed above the knee, she must learn to rely on her hips for support. Eventually, she should be able to walk on her on own with the help of a cane or walker, her therapist said.
"Our goal is to have her keep getting better every day. She’s an amazing little girl. She has a drive I wish I had," said Daniel Izquierdo, the physician assistant for Task Force 1-35 Armor, which is the unit replacing 3-1 at Patrol Base Assassin.
Izquierdo said he will carry on the therapy program started by his predecessors.
For the soldiers of Troop A, Arabia has been something of a sanctuary. When they arrive each week to pick up Suham, the children gather around. While Suham puts on her prosthetics for the short ride to the patrol base, the soldiers sit in the little TV room and chat with family members.
The other soldiers hang around outside playing with the neighborhood kids.
As she makes her way to the Humvee, Suham holds the arms of family members for support.
"She used to have to bring her wheelchair everywhere she went. Now she’s starting to walk," Sumrall said.
But even a small humanitarian mission just a couple miles away from their base carries some risk.
Back in November, a bomb exploded on the way back to Suham’s house after a therapy session.
Sumrall, who was in his vehicle’s gunner position, took shrapnel to his right shoulder. Strangely, the metal cut into the tattoo of Iraq he has etched there. The shards sliced into the bannered phrase "Iraqi Freedom" written in Arabic.
Sumrall, who returns to Georgia this week with the rest of his unit, said he has no regrets about the mission to help Suham or the scars that mark his shoulder.
"I feel good about what we’ve done here," he said.