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Sergeant Marikay Satriano

Natasha’s note:

It was a true honor to talk to Marikay about her experience. Her inspiring story, written below as it was told to me, is only amplified by the humility with which she tells it.

I was stationed in Amman, Jordan and was selected to come to the Iraqi Assistance Center (IAC) in Baghdad in March of 2005. Parents of sick kids come here and leave their medical records. They are filed by categories and then transmitted to various US agencies in the Gulf. The center is staffed ½ by Americans and Iraqis. When I came there, I asked the Iraqis why they chose to come to work at the center, bearing tremendous personal risk and risk to their families. I quickly realized it was not about the money. When the seventh person I asked stood up and said: “I want to help my people,” it became very clear to me that filing medical records wasn’t going to do it. We needed to pick a few kids and actually do something to help them.

Once I said this is what we were going to do, their spirits just lifted. For so long these Iraqis were oppressed and because of that oppression, they did not know how to take initiative. But they jumped to the task once we set some specific, measurable, and practical goals. They started calling the families of the kids whose medical files were brought to the center. If they got in touch with someone, they asked that the child be brought in.

I will never forget seeing this father, carrying his 12 year-old son in his arms. The father was a fruit seller and dropped everything he was doing once he got the call. When he came to the center his son was wrapped in layers of clothes – with a congenital heart defect, circulation is poor, and he was cold, even though it was warm outside. The boy was so small, he looked like he was eight years old. It breaks your heart to see these kids.

My trip to Baghdad made me realize that this is it, this is the time to use my previous experience and contacts and actually help some of these sick kids. I remember that I found this doctor in Italy, who, with the help of several nuns, was working at a small hospital. I told him about the kids and he just said to me: “I can help.” Just those three words. He and the nuns really inspired me to find a way to help these kids get the surgery they needed.

As you know from the press, we brought four of the Iraqi children to the Montefiore Hospital where all of their surgeries were successful. The fifth child is being operated on as we speak. They came here with their fathers – their moms stayed home to take care of the rest of the families. I know there all these images that exist about Arabic men, but I can tell you that these fathers all miss their wives very much and would love to have them by their side during this difficult time. And they have been very nice and respectful with me as well, trusting me and listening to what I have to say. They shake my hand when they see me, all cultural conventions aside. They know how hard I am working for them and their kids and they do appreciate it.

I witnessed something during this experience that I call the “toothache syndrome.” (This is something I saw a lot during my days as a teacher.) Your tooth hurts and you go to the doctor. The doctor says you need to get it pulled out. You are afraid of doing that, of going through that bigger pain, even though it will bring relief. So you choose to continue to live with the lesser pain of having your tooth hurt. I saw this when I watched the Iraqi fathers who came with their children. They were afraid of surgery very much; before, their kids were sick, but alive, but during surgery, they were under anesthetic, and it was not known if it would work out. But once they woke up and already looked so much healthier, the fathers were elated.

I think this applies to many of us in different parts of our lives. Often we don’t want to do something to change our lives because we are intimidated or scared that the big change will hurt. So we choose to keep going the way we are, although we might not be happy. We have to be brave and pull out the tooth.

The biggest thing I’ve gotten out of this incredible experience is knowing that the lives of these kids were saved. It’s not about how many. It’s about knowing that I did the best with the resources that I had. I had great support from my superiors and I truly appreciate that. For me, the old motto of the Army - “Be All That You Can Be” – is still true and that is still what I go by. I think the new motto is “The Army of One,” but I still go by what it used to be.

This is the greatest job I’ve ever had – meaningful, worthwhile, creative. I have no idea what’s next and that’s ok with me.

What I want to say to other Daring Females is this:

If you care, then you can’t NOT act. You can’t just wait for the world to change. You have to take responsibility and find a way to do something.

To learn more about Marikay and the children she has helped survive so far, click here.

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