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    Posted October 8, 2010 by
    Sulaymania, Iraq
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Salute to troops

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    Mothers of fallen servicemembers travel to Iraq


    Colleen Parkin hugs Staff Sgt. Joe Waterman during a Gold Star Mothers conference in Sulaymania, Iraq, Sept. 26. Parkin lost her son, Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Reed Smith, in 2005.


    By  Jennifer Montagna



    SULAYMANIA, Iraq - The Gold Star Mothers Organization was created to provide emotional support to U.S. women who have lost a son or daughter in the line of duty. Nine of these Gold Star Mothers traveled to the Sulaymania Arts Center for a three-day conference, beginning Sept. 26. For these mothers, it was a chance to see what their child was fighting for and to see the outcome of a war that claimed their child's life.


    The conference began with speeches from the First Lady of Iraq, Hero Talabani; the Iraqi Martyrs Office; and Task Force Marne Deputy Commanding General-Support, Brig. Gen. Tom Vandal.


    "It's an honor to participate in today's events to recognize the sacrifices made by the Gold Star Mothers and to thank them for the sacrifices of their loved ones," said. Brig. Gen. Vandal. "As revered members of our military community, your love and devotion to the Families of the armed services gives all of us strength and confidence knowing that you stand with us honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice."


    Among those attending the conference were Iraqi women who had lost loved ones in the line of duty while working to make their country a better place.


    "Regardless of differences in culture, we can all agree on the importance of Family and the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves," said Vandal. "It is obvious as we see the fruits of their sacrifices that Iraq is on its way toward improved security and economic development. Those men and women who died for a noble cause in Iraq, would be proud of what we see today in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Sulaymania."


    First Lady Talabani also spoke of her gratitude for U.S. and Iraqi Forces working together to change the lives of her people.


    "Your sons came and liberated Iraq," she said to the U.S. mothers. "They managed to take down dictators of destruction. We are honored to meet you here today, and we will never forget what your kids, your sons and your daughters did for us. Terrorist could never stop the progress of our nation and with the help of the U.S. we've rid Iraq of Saddam forever."


    A documentary film was played to show the Gold Star Mothers what their sons and daughters liberated the Iraqi people from. It was an emotional event, where mothers connected with each other regardless of which country they were from.


    "We stand for Families united for universal respect. We are sowing the seeds of friendship, and we feel as though we have much in common," said Joan Betros on behalf of the Gold Star Mothers. Betros is the co-founder of FUTURE - Families United Toward Universal Respect - and helped to organize the conference.


    The Gold Star Mothers met with Iraqi Martyrs to share their stories of pride and loss, mingling before the event.


    Emily Shields of Columbia, S.C., the mother of 1st Lt. Andrew C. Shields, who was killed in an apache helicopter accident near the city of Mosul, Iraq, in 2004, attended the event.


    "My child did what he could to help the people of this country, and now I feel like I have the chance to do the same by coming here and connecting with others who have been through what I have," she said. "We've been treated very nicely and welcomed so kindly by the Iraqi Martyrs and everyone else involved in this event."


    Hugs were a big gesture and given out in abundance at the conference as part of the program Hugs for Healing.


    "We don't get a chance to hug the uniform very much anymore now that our children are gone, so it's nice not only to be over here, but to see Soldiers again," said Shields who embraced Capt. Susan Downing, Command Post - North Engagements officer.


    The bond between the Iraqi Martyrs and Gold Star Mothers was evident and the opportunity to meet each other was appreciated on both sides.


    Along with camaraderie the Gold Star Mothers brought humanitarian aid supplies such as baby blankets and bottles with them for those who were in need.



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