SoupNazi sends this article about an amazing Army Officer and an Iraqi orphan. It's from February and I'm surprised that I hadn't heard about Scott Southworth before. Thanks to the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal (again) for a great story about our military.
Soldier finds a purpose beyond serving his country while in Iraq
By GINA BARTON
Posted: Feb. 26, 2005
The first time Capt. Scott Southworth visited the orphanage in Baghdad, the little boy was drawn to him immediately.
The boy, who has cerebral palsy and cannot walk, half-crawled,
half-dragged himself across the floor until he was seated at
Southworth's side, then gazed up at him with a crooked smirk.
"People ask me how I chose him, but I didn't. He chose me," Southworth said.
It was September 2003, and Southworth was in command of the
Wisconsin National Guard 32nd Military Police Company during its
14-month tour in Iraq. Their mission was to teach local police officers
how to operate in a democracy. Their visits to the orphanage for
disabled children were a way for the soldiers to forget the hard times:
the shellings, the car bombs, the attacks on the police stations where
they worked. And Southworth loved spending time with the little boy,
Southworth grew up in a military family, raised with love of God and
country. He graduated from law school at the University of Wisconsin
with honors and planned to run for Juneau County district attorney at
the end of his deployment.
As for Ala'a (pronounced "Allah"), when he was 3 or 4, an Iraqi
police officer found him alone on the streets of Baghdad. The officer
brought him to the orphanage, run by the Catholic Missionaries of
Charity of Mother Teresa. By the time Southworth started visiting him
there, Ala'a was about 10. The nuns who cared for him had taught him to
pray and to speak English.
Face to face, Ala'a called Southworth by his first name, Scott. But
the nuns told Southworth they saw a stronger bond beginning to form.
Ala'a was always concerned about what he would wear when Southworth
came to visit. He was suddenly interested in learning to walk. At night
when Ala'a lay down in his crib, he would pray not for himself but for
Southworth, whom he felt was in danger. And when he talked about his
new friend from America, he called him "Baba," which means "Daddy" in
his native Arabic.
"At first, it was just kind of cute, kind of nice," said Southworth, 32, who felt more like Ala'a's big brother than his father.
Then he started to realize what a difference he was making in the
boy's life. Sure, Ala'a had always been loved by the nuns, but they
loved everyone. This little boy had likely been abandoned by his
parents. He'd never had anyone to make him feel valuable as an
individual. Now, he did.
"Everybody on the planet needs to feel special to somebody, and I could see that happening for him," Southworth said.
In December, about three months after the two first met, the
soldiers had a Christmas party for the orphans. Ala'a, who had been
raised Christian, giggled and prattled on about "Baba Noel" - Father
Christmas - as he showed Southworth the set of colorful blocks he'd
Shortly after the party, one of the doctors who cared for the
orphans told Southworth that she was worried about Ala'a's future. He
was getting too big for the orphanage. In a year, he would have to move
to a government-run home for the disabled, which housed adults and
older children. Southworth had heard about the home. By all reports, it
was horrible. The doctor confirmed his fears.
"If he goes there, his life is over," the doctor said, speaking more than figuratively...
..."Then I'll adopt him," Southworth said. The words came out in a
rush. Only after he'd spoken them did he begin to think things through.
Could he really adopt this boy? Southworth started to pray, trying to
figure out the Lord's plan for him.
Signs, hurdles, promises
The first sign he received was a
bootleg DVD of "The Passion of the Christ," sent to a fellow soldier in
a care package from home. The film's quality was poor, but its message
"I thought, 'If He can do that for me, surely I can (adopt Ala'a).' "
Every time a friend or family member pointed out one of the
challenges, Southworth thought about the distant future. He imagined
meeting Ala'a in heaven. In his vision, Ala'a came to him and asked,
"Scott, why didn't you come back for me?" Southworth went through all
the answers. He pictured himself saying, "Well, I didn't have a lot of
money." Or: "I'm a single guy, I don't know anything about taking care
of a child with cerebral palsy." Or: "I have a very demanding career."
"Every time I thought of a reason, it quickly turned into an excuse,
and I was absolutely ashamed and embarrassed," Southworth said. "I
thought, 'Well, I can sacrifice a little bit here and make some
adjustments, or I can spend the rest of my life ashamed and
The determination that had gotten Southworth simultaneously through
law school and National Guard training now became focused on saving
The roadblocks sprang up almost immediately. Under Iraqi law,
foreign adoptions are not allowed. In the midst of leading a company in
a war zone, Southworth tried to figure out his other options. Bribing a
judge or threatening someone into letting him take Ala'a probably would
have worked, but there was no way he would go that route.
"I was over there teaching them about the rule of law. I had to show
them that if you really wanted something, there was a (legitimate)
way," Southworth said.
He learned that to take an orphan from the country, he would need a
letter from the child's official guardian, the Iraqi Minister of Labor.
Southworth wrote a letter to the minister, asking that he be allowed to
take Ala'a to the United States for medical care. He was amazed when
the minister agreed.
Then he realized Ala'a had no passport and couldn't get one in the
current political climate. Even if he could, the American government
had not yet agreed to let him into the country.
As Southworth prepared to leave Baghdad in July 2004, he still
hadn't worked out the details. He would have to leave Ala'a behind. On
his last visit to the orphanage, Southworth told the boy he was headed
for America. He didn't tell Ala'a he hoped to adopt him. He didn't want
to get his hopes up. Instead, he told him he would come back to visit.
Even that was a promise he knew he might not be able to keep. His unit
still had an arduous journey out of Iraq, during which any one of them
could be killed.
Ala'a didn't cry.
"He had made a decision that I was his daddy and he had absolute faith that God was going to make it happen," Southworth said.
A new home
By the time Southworth returned to Wisconsin, the
campaign for Juneau County district attorney was in full swing. He was
released from active duty at midnight July 30, 2004. At 11 a.m. the
next day, he was in his first parade. He won a three-way primary in
September and was elected to the prosecutor's post in November.
Along the way, he networked among attorney friends to find an
immigration lawyer and settled upon Laura Danielson of the firm
Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis.
"They have a real heart for the disadvantaged in foreign countries,
but they had never dealt with Iraq before. It was a real challenge for
them," Southworth said.
With Danielson's help, Southworth was able to gain approval for
Ala'a to enter the United States temporarily under humanitarian parole,
which is granted only in extremely rare cases.
"It's for situations where there is no other hope, no other chance,
and you have to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances," Southworth
Just over a month ago, Southworth returned to Iraq to retrieve his foster son.
Ala'a has settled in easily to the former bachelor pad Southworth
calls home. His new grandmother decorated a bedroom for him, complete
with a red, white and blue bedspread and a yellowed American flag that
hung in Southworth's boyhood room. Ala'a's deep brown eyes grow wide as
Southworth tosses him on the bed and tickles him.
"Baba, are you ticklish?" he shrieks between giggles.
After enrolling Ala'a in middle school, arranging for medical care
and taking the little boy to "Pooh's Heffalump Movie" on a Friday
night, Southworth definitely feels like a father. He and Ala'a both are
optimistic that someday he will be allowed to take on the title
permanently and legally in the eyes of both the United States and Iraq.
"He has the true faith of a child," Southworth said. "I think he knew what was going to happen."
Later, in March, Scott and Ala'a were given some good news by their new doctor. Ala'a will walk again.
I've got an email out to get a current status of Scott and Ala'a.