Feature - Deployed Hanscom major helps Iraqi family, improves relations

Maj. Michael Lauden, director of operations for ESC’s Air Force Distributed Common Ground Systems Division, currently deployed in Iraq, is thanked by Mazin Zayer Al-Lamy, director general for Contracts and Sales in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, for the support he provided in collecting donations for the family of Mr. Al-Lamy's driver, who had passed away after being shot by an insurgent. (Courtesy photo)

Maj. Michael Lauden, director of operations for the Electronic Systems Center’s Air Force Distributed Common Ground Systems Division, currently deployed in Iraq, is thanked by Mazin Zayer Al-Lamy, director general for Contracts and Sales in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, for the support he provided in collecting donations for the family of Mr. Al-Lamy's driver, who passed away after being shot by an insurgent. (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Improving the image of Americans in Iraq was not on the mind of a deployed Electronic Systems Center major; he was just trying to help a family in need.

Maj. Michael Lauden, director of operations for ESC's Air Force Distributed Common Ground Systems Division, has been deployed to Iraq since May. In his deployed position, he is the advisor to Mazin Zayer Al-Lamy, director general for Contracts and Sales in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

In late July, Major Lauden learned that Mr. Al-Lamy's driver passed away. The driver, who will only be identified as Mr. Raad due to security concerns, had been in a coma since April when he was shot by an insurgent on his way home from work.

Mr. Raad left behind a family of three girls, one boy, all under the age of six, and a pregnant wife. Major Lauden learned from his interpreter that the Iraqis would provide some monetary assistance, but it wouldn't be very much and then the family would be on its own.

"A few days earlier, my wife and I had been discussing what to do with some toys and clothes that our daughters had outgrown," Major Lauden said. "When I heard about Mr. Raad, the answer was a no-brainer. I asked my wife to box it all up and send it me."

However, he wanted to do more than that. After checking to see what kind of donations would be appropriate and appreciated, he organized an effort to get contributions from his co-workers, both in Iraq and at Hanscom.

"The response from back home was overwhelming and immediate," Major Lauden said. "In fact, a lot of the clothing was brand new. People felt so strongly about helping that they took the time to go to the store and spend their own money."

Hanscom was not the only U.S. base that contributed; one of the major's co-workers received a box of donations from families at McGuire AFB, N.J.

Once everything was put together, Major Lauden had three large boxes of clothes, toys, non-perishable food and $310.

"Major Lauden's actions reflect his personal strength of character and epitomize the American humanitarian spirit," said Col. William S. Leister, chief of the Intelligence and Special Programs Division of the Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Directorate. "At home or downrange, Major Lauden makes his family, his unit, and all of us here at ESC very proud."

Due to safety concerns, the original plan was for the major to bring the donations in to Mr. Al-Lamy's office, and he would then arrange for the items to be brought to the family.

As a surprise to Major Lauden, Mr. Al-Lamy arranged for Mr. Raad's brother and two oldest daughters to come into the ministry on Sept. 23 to accept the donations.

"The family was very receptive and very grateful," Major Lauden said. "But, it was also quite sad, not only because these two little girls were the first I'd seen since I said 'goodbye' to my own two daughters in May, but the reality set in for me of the long, tough road the family has ahead of them."

As the image most Iraqis have of Americans is the military on combat patrols, Zaid Al-Fayed, deputy director general for Contracts and Sales in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, said that the major's gesture would go a long way to help improve the image of Americans and also help lay the groundwork for an enduring partnership.

"This allows the Iraqis to see a different side of Americans," he said.

The leaders at ESC and in Iraq also recognize the impact Major Lauden's efforts may have.

"This is a wonderful example, on a personal level, of the Air Force's and ESC's involvement in the current fight," said Steve Wert, program executive officer for C2ISR.

"We are very proud of Mike's actions," said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, U.S. Forces Iraq deputy commanding general for advising and training Iraqi forces. "He clearly represented the Electronic Systems Center, the United States Forces-Iraq and, most importantly, the great American spirit."