Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Two Friends Gone

On Monday evening, Memorial Day, I learned that two friends of mine from the Embassy had just been killed.  They were on a visit to one of our major projects in Fallujah when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb.  A third individual with them, a Navy officer whom I did not know, was also killed.  Two security personnel were badly wounded but survived.


Hearing news like this is a punch in the gut.  These two men, Maged Hussein and Terry Barnich, weren't just names to me, or faces I knew around campus.  We were teammates in the Iraq Transition Assistance Office (ITAO).  And these two were the stars of the team.


Maged was an American of Egyptian background.  He was tall, slender, impeccably dressed, modest, gracious, funny, and brilliant.  He was a true gentleman.  He never mentioned his PhD and never copped an attitude with anybody.  When I first got to the Embassy and was trying to learn my job, Maged spent hours with me going over projects, funding, technical details, political implications, how each effort fit (or didn't) in the grand scheme of things, and the background of each one.  Maged rarely had to look things up - he knew everything going on with dozens of projects.  And he told it straight, no matter what.  Maged was our "water guy".  He was in charge of everything ITAO was doing with water treatment plants, sewer systems, irrigation and drainage, dams, everything.  Including the Fallujah waste water treatment plant, which is what the team was visiting that day.  Because of Maged, there are literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis tonight who have clean water or working sewers.  He would shrug it off or say I'm exaggerating, but it's the truth.  Maged made a difference in this country.


Terry Barnich was just as brilliant and just as much a gentleman.  He was also very outgoing, athletic, good-looking, and a bit of a mischievous rogue - but always in the spirit of fun.  Terry was always game for something new, and if it happened to push the boundaries a bit, so much the better.  He had a background in law and an incredible talent with words, so he was often called on to provide briefings to the multitude of study groups and high-level visitors coming through.  One of our office partners, after hearing Terry spin a problem project as a great success story, said "Terry can polish a turd better than anybody I know".  A bit crude, but true, and Terry loved that phrase when he heard it.  He served as the deputy in the office, and with his innate grasp of the political environment in both the Iraqi government and our own Embassy, he kept our office well-positioned to do our job.  I always enjoyed working with Terry - his comments and advice were excellent and he respected my input.  And he jumped in and provided cover for me on a couple of occasions when I got myself into hot water.  Most people would've let me flounder.  Not Terry.


And now they're gone, killed by a bomb planted who-knows-when by some nameless goon.  These deaths are a tragedy.  Not just to Maged and Terry's friends and families, but to the Iraqi people.  When I heard the news, I just felt like saying "fuck it, if that's the way they're going to be, then let 'em have this goddam country".  But that's not right.  Terry and Maged came here to make this place better.  "Came here" isn't the right term ... that sounds passive, as if the fickle finger of fate pointed to them and said "You!  Go!".  No, to get to a job here takes a tremendous amount of time and effort.  You don't just raise your hand.  These two guys worked hard to get here, then they worked amazingly hard to make a difference.  And they made a helluva difference.


Another thing.  As bad as I feel right now, and as all ITAO members feel, there's not an Iraqi in this town who hasn't had the same experience.  One day, something bad happens, and somebody near and dear is dead.  The Iraqis that I work with have had enough of that.  They just want to have a job, take care of their families, and live in peace.  They're sick of the fighting and killing.


So I've buried myself in my job the past couple of days.  I'm okay until somebody asks me about it or makes some sympathetic remark.  Then I have to struggle for control.  Terry and Maged worked as hard as they could to make Iraq a better place, so Iraqis like those I work with will have a better chance at life and fewer reasons to take up the gun.  Neither of them would have walked away from the job if the bomb had hit a different vehicle.  I can't, either.


But Memorial Day will forever mean something different to me.


9 comments:

David said...

Skip-
Thanks for your great blog entry. I was in Baghdad from July 2006- Aug 2007, and knew both Maged and Terry. Maged came over with me, we went through the anti-terrorism training together, and we were close friends. He taught me about Islam, he helped me with projects where we shared interests and contacts, and we ate and laughed together, often. We heard our first incoming mortar round together, and shared a number of other firsts, that only happen in Baghdad.
Terry was on several teams with me, rowing, running, etc. and we also talked and laughed a lot.
I appreciate you putting up this blog entry- it says it all so very well.
Unfortunately, while there is a lot of publicity here about Terry's death, there has been almost no mention of Maged. Were it not from a note from Nicola Bazzani at the Italian Embassy, I might not have know Maged was killed.
I agree with you that Maged is responsible for a great deal in Iraq, and I hope that he will be remembered there in some fitting way. Perhaps naming a water facility of some sort after him?

Be safe, and thanks for your service as well.
Dave Karmol

Storypainter said...

Thanks for your comments, Dave. Maged's name was not publicly released until today (Thursday) because of difficulties in locating and notifying his family. For all the others who have contacted me, thank you for your thoughts and considerations.

All the best,
Skip

Cary said...

I also wish to thank you for your comments.
Maged is all that you said and he will be missed by his team mates from the Interagency Modeling Center in West Palm Beach, FL.
Take care and be safe.
Cary White

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/28/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Aishe Seyfullah said...

Dear Skip,
Thank you for this excellent write up in memory of Maged and Terry. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Terry however; I worked with Maged while he was employed as the USDA Water and Soil Advisor for the Ministry of Agriculture. This really began as the on the phone" collaboration since I was based in USDA/Washington. It was really a pleasure working with him. I had no idea who that person was on the other end but his willingness to help, engage and explain complex water projects was astounding. I will never forget how he answered his phone “Maged Hussein” with such a positive note in his voice that you felt like talking to him for hours. I finally got to meet him last December while on the USDA detail in Baghdad. I have no idea how, but he recognized me first without ever meeting me in person. Meeting Maged in person was even more rewarding. I had breakfast with him almost every day in the little DFAC, several dinners at various venues around the IZ and visited him in his old office in the Palace. You are absolutely right, Maged had an excellent memory and a deep knowledge of every project he worked on. He poured over maps of the water projects he oversaw and shared his experience of traveling to the Marshes with Ambo Crocker. He was so excited and dedicated to his work!

I had a tremendous respect for Maged. His intellect, humility and kindness never ceased to amaze me. Indeed, he had a beautiful mind. At the same time, he was very real and had a great sense of humor. Right before I left, the whole group of us went to the Iraqi restaurant across from the NEC. Maged was joking so much that our table was bursting in laughter every few minutes. And then the highlight came when Maged refused to eat the chicken he ordered because it smelled funny to him. We were giving him so much trouble for that they had to prepare the whole new dish for him. Unfortunately, I had to leave dinner early. Maged would not let me walk across the street to the NEC alone. He insisted on dropping me off at the gate. He was a true gentleman!

I consider myself blessed that I had a chance to know a person like Maged. I will forever cherish memories of him.

Aishe Seyfullah Allen
USDA

CMC said...

Dave:
Terry was a long-time colleague and friend of mine for more years than either of us would care to count at this point. You captured Terry's essence perfectly.

Something that Terry would have wanted reported on more prominently than his death is the exceptional people who are in Iraq working extraordinarily hard to rebuild the country and the progress that is being made as a result. During his most recent trip back home, I asked him about the people he was working with. We hear so much negative nonsense from the media that I expected to hear anything other than the glowing praise he had for each of his ITAO colleagues. He found the work so tremendously rewarding in large part because he was part of team that was dedicated to "the mission" and that the mission centered on improving the lives of countless Iraqis. Terry would be disappointed if this message didn't come across louder than news of his death.

Terry would have also been embarrassed if he knew that the two others - Maged Hussein and Cmdr. Duane G. Wolfe - who died with him that day were not recognized ahead of him. We understand why the names of the three people killed in this tragic incident were not released at the same time. Knowing Terry, though, he would have wanted the folks that handle such announcements to wait until all three could be released and recognized together.

We appreciate all that has been and is being done by our armed forces as well as the non-military teams in Iraq. We can only hope that the media begins to highlight in detail the success stories that are due to your hard work and unselfish dedication.

Be safe.
Craig Clausen

Aishe Seyfullah said...

Dave and Craig,

I agree that an effort needs to be made to highlight the positive and the difference that the great work of Terry, Maged and Cmd. Wolfe brought to Iraq. A story in the paper would be a good start.

Cecelia Kane said...

So sorry to hear of the deaths of your friends. You honor them with your descriptions of them as smart, living, caring human beings working for the common good.

Cecelia

kalmarie said...

Skip,

It's hard for me to believe that a year has passed since we lost Terry and Maged. This Memorial weekend I read your comments from last year and it brought back all the wonderful qualities that made them so special. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and helping us to remember them as the vibrant people we loved.

My best to you in your artistic endeavors. Come visit us in DC when you can.

Take Care,
KalMarie