With less than one month left in my deployment, my aunt and her daughter-in-law organized a girls’ camp project to make twelve blankets for people in need. These large, soft fleece blankets were handmade with loving care and sent to me for distribution. As I thought about who should receive the blankets, I remembered a recent car bombing in downtown Kirkuk. I thought it would be meaningful if we could find victims of the attack and let them know that Americans care and were thinking of them. A friend of mine who served as the provincial police chief went to work and identified several families directly affected by the attack.
The location of the families posed a real and dangerous threat. Kirkuk can be an unpredictable, menacing city. This mission was unique because my team was going to rely on the police chief to guide and escort our convoy without us knowing beforehand exactly where our route would take us. We had to trust him. Most of my men were uneasy about not being in complete control and not inclined to trust an Iraqi official completely. As we gathered and prepared to leave the base, I had to make a judgment call. I was in command, and it was up to me to decide whether to proceed or not. I relied on inspiration from the Holy Ghost, and I believed we were going to be fine. I felt we were going to return safely and that we needed to accomplish this mission. I went from Humvee to Humvee and said, “Guys, I know you are uncomfortable, but we are going to be fine on this mission. Trust me on this one. We are going to be safe.” The Holy Ghost’s comfort enabled me to gain the confidence of these tremendous men.
The mission took us through the narrow city streets, around piles of rubble, and under dropping telephone wires strung like spaghetti between the old buildings. We knocked on the dwelling doors and were introduced through our Iraqi linguists as “Americans who would like to provide your family with comfort.” We proceeded to give those blankets of love to families who had lost a loved one in the attacks. If there were children in the home, we also gave them backpacks filled with school supplies, soccer balls, and stuffed animals. I would take as many as I could by the hand, look at them, and say, “May God bless and protect you.” It was my way to exercise my priesthood and bless them in a small way. Frequently, other children would swarm us, and so we were prepared to share the supplies, Beanie Babies, and soccer balls with them, too.
I have always trusted the Lord and learned to rely on the Holy Ghost, especially as a young missionary in Italy. Now, like then, the reassurance of the Spirit came to me. I was able to safely lead my men while serving the people of Kirkuk.
To end my deployment on such a high note, with a humanitarian mission, was very special. We were doing what we could to give hope and comfort to these children of our Heavenly Father who were so tragically deprived of their husbands, brothers, and fathers in this war. I will never forget their tears and their gratitude and encouragement to us. They pleaded with us to keep on fighting for their freedom and give them hope that their country would someday be like America.
Major Michael Burton Howard, U.S. Air Force, Faith in the Service, p41–43.