This is an article I wrote in response to the first travel ban, but feel it is relevant now more than ever as President Trump’s THIRD attempt at a travel ban has just recently been struck down by a District Court Judge in Hawaii.
During 2007 I was deployed as a medic to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. While conducting a mission in Sangin, we engaged in heavy contact with the enemy. We were infilling (entering) into the city and hadn’t yet been able to set up a compound to operate from. The fight was long, intense, and, at times, terrifying.
As dawn began to approach we knew we needed to seek refuge in a nearby compound before we lost the cover of darkness. Every Ranger knows the enemy attacks at dawn. We were still out in the open as the morning prayers started, and the sun rapidly evened the playing field. Our point man led us into a walled compound at the last moment. The sounds from outside erupted all around us; AK-47, RPK, and RPG fire. All hell broke loose outside of our commandeered compound. We set up 360-degree security, we organized patrols, and we returned fire, which included calling in airstrikes. We fought all day- sometimes from the top of the compound’s walls, sometimes on exploratory patrols while clearing nearby buildings. Finally, as the day started winding down, the fighting ceased. We had pushed the enemy far enough back that they decided to retreat for the moment.
As the fighting died, locals started coming out into the streets. Sometimes doing normal daily routines like herding their sheep and carrying food and water, or possibly they were just curious about the new Americans that occupied their village, but whatever the reason, foot traffic thickened. We increased the number of guards we had around the compound. Any of these locals could potentially pose a threat. A common occurrence, though, once we established a perimeter in a new town or village was that the locals would bring their sick and injured to our front gates. We would search them, and clear them to come into a separated area for treatment. This was always bittersweet for me. As a line medic, the only medical supplies I was afforded were what I could carry on my back, so I had to be frugal with what I had as resupply could be few and far between.
While treating the locals after a massive firefight like the one we just endured, I would see locals with a lot of gunshot wounds, burns, shrapnel, and other combat-related injuries. Most of these casualties were military-aged males, so my assumption was always these were the same people we had just been fighting, but now, instead of shooting at them, I was plugging their wounds. This was the way of the world-medics during the Global War on Terror had a responsibility to treat friendlies and enemies alike and as professionals, we lived up to that responsibility. There is no greater teacher for human empathy than pulling shrapnel out of someone who just tried to kill you.
During each of my deployments, there have been moments that stood out. This time was no exception, as it was during this deployment that I met Salma. In Arabic the name Salma means “to be safe” or “peaceful”, but when I first met Salma, it was anything but peaceful circumstances. Through our interpreter, I found out the man who accompanied Salma was her father and he brought her to our compound because she had been badly burned during the fighting the last night, or so was relayed to me. I delicately began my physical examination of her lower right arm and lower right leg, the two areas her father had said had been injured. As I rolled up her sleeve I noticed an oddity with the burn- her entire arm, below the elbow, had been burned. One hundred percent of the affected area was covered in burns, and at the top of the burn, it ended uniformly. It was as if someone had taken a red Sharpie and had drawn a red line around the circumference of her arm and colored everything below the line red. Again, being careful to not injure her further, I exposed her right leg below the knee. The wound was the same. Those wounds are very specific. There aren’t many circumstances that can cause that type of wound. My immediate concern was that this father had dipped his daughter’s right arm and leg into a pot of boiling, hot water. He had tortured his little girl.
My heart broke. Here was a little girl around age six or seven, who was covered in burns. Her eyes were wet and puffy, she had clearly been crying, and was even suppressing sniffles now as I examined her wounds. Her hair was plastered to her head. She was sweating from the heat and the pain, and every so often she would let out low whimpers when the pain became too much to contain. Rage consumed me. I told the paratrooper pulling security to grab the father, and through the interpreter I started screaming at him, demanding him to tell me what happened to Salma. The fear in the father’s eyes was clearly visible as he confessed his sins to us. The fear soon turned to hatred as the father glared at me as I called over and told the village Elders of the sickening act. I did what I could for Salma but ultimately had to send them on their way. I hoped the Elders would handle the situation, but in Afghanistan, it isn’t like you can call Child Protective Services.
Fast forward to 2017 and the refugee ban and ensuing arguments; here’s where the unpopular opinion comes into play. I want to let the Salma’s of the world come into this country, regardless of the cost. I want to do everything we can to protect those who can’t protect themselves from the travesties in the world around them. No one can control what we are born into, or who are parents are, but what we can control is seeking refuge when the situation is so bad that we can’t handle it anymore. Salma would be approximately sixteen or seventeen years old today, old enough to make the choice to run away to America, and trust me, there is plenty of evil out in the world to run away from.
But what about Salma’s father you may ask? By letting in Salma, we may also be letting in the monster that tortured her by “dipping” her into a pot of boiling, hot water. A monster who was possibly part of the Taliban insurgents who battled with us while we moved into the city. That IS possibly the risk we are taking by bringing refugees from certain parts of the world to America. We are a strong nation. We are a nation protected by rights and privileges, laws and governmental support unprecedented in history. The people moving here only know one way of life so far, lawlessness. There is no fear of repercussions for your actions in Afghanistan unless that is, you disobey the Taliban, who, incidentally, don’t care about the rights of children or women. By allowing these people into the country, we are offering them a chance for reform, a chance for a new way of life. We are showing them that the world doesn’t only consist of shooters, rapists, torturers, and the poverty-stricken. We can introduce them to a new beginning where instead of pain and strife they may know love and success. Another distinct advantage we have if a potentially dangerous refugee comes into our borders is the American people themselves. I know if Salma’s father were my neighbor, he certainly wouldn’t get away with boiling his daughter, just as I’m sure if he were yours, you wouldn’t let it stand either. The thing about refugees that everyone seems to forget, they will have to answer to a judicial system in ways they’ve never had to before, but more importantly, they are people too. They deserve a chance at something better. Ask yourself this, what if Salma was your daughter, would you want her to be left without any help?
An article I recently read, penned by a fellow service member, posed the question “Can you still see their faces?” referring to those of the potential refugees. The general point of the article was to bring attention to the evil acts of the people who could potentially be coming to the United States when we allow refugees in. My answer is simple: Yes, every single one, and I know that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do everything in my power to help the Salma’s of the world, even at my own cost. If the danger does come, we will do what we always have. We will stand up to it, we will face it and we will walk away stronger. So, I beg of each of you, to reconsider your stance on the refugees. Call your congressmen and women and tell them that we open our arms and communities, but also that through us, we will work together to keep America, and its protected, safe. We will all work to become the sheepdogs watching over our flock.