Oct 28, 2011 12:00 AM by Matt Stafford
What were you doing at 13 years old? It was probably very different from Jasim Ramadon. Seven years ago he was living in Iraq and his father was a Captain in Saddam Hussein's military -- telling him to kill Americans. Now Ramadon is 19 and lives in Colorado Springs; he also gets support from American soldiers. It's a journey that seems much farther than halfway across the world.
Ramadon was only a teenager when his country was turned upside down with war.
"When I was 13 I saw people get their head cut off, people chopped up to pieces, people die in front of me, explode," says Ramadon. "In Iraq my dad was in the military with Saddam Hussein's military. He was a Captain."
"He gave me an A-K as said, 'Time for your childhood is gone, now you've got to fire at the soldiers,'" says Ramadon.
Ramadon didn't do it, but told his father that he did.
"I thought it was wrong," says Ramadon. "I couldn't go back home with an A-K full of bullets, because he's going to say, 'What?'" So I started shooting, you know; I took some rounds and threw them in the garbage."
"I went back you know, and I was like, 'Here, Dad, look; I shot somebody and I think I hurt somebody.'" He gave me a hug and was proud of me."
It was hard for Ramadon hold in the truth.
"I tried to run away from my Dad; different country, you know, but the guys who worked for him brought me back. The second time I tried to run away they put a gun in my mouth and they said, 'if you run again we'll kill you,'" recalls Ramadon.
It was his mother who told him he had to go to the Americans for help; that it wasn't safe for him anymore.
"We were at a border checkpoint and he came up to one of my soldiers and said he wanted to be arrested," remembers Robert Evens, a retired U.S. Army platoon sergeant with the 1-3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Carson.
Evans says Ramadon told them through a translator to take him in as a prisoner; zip-stripped and with a hood over his head. He didn't want other Iraqis to see him as friends with the Americans.
Evans says the soldiers were skeptical at first, but Ramadon started proving how useful he could be very fast.
"He started to give a lot of information about an insurgent cell that was operating in the town we were at, and one of them was his father," says Evans.
His code name was Steve-O, and his first target was his father's house.
"It was at night," remembers Ramadon.
"We had Steve-O in the Hum-V; ski mask," says Evans. "Brought his father out; he identified him through the window of the Hum-V."
After helping find and capture his father, he also took soldiers around the home showing them where weapons were hidden. Ramadon quickly began gaining respect from the American soldiers.
"13 years old; who would turn in their father?" says Delma Fletcher, a former U.S. Army soldier who also served with the 1-3rd A.C.R. at the time.
"That's got to be a hard thing to do, especially for a young man to do that," adds Evans.
Ramadon says he knew it was right, but it wasn't easy. Homesick, he went to visit his mother.
"She told me, 'you need to go back to the soldiers because they're (insurgents) going to kill you," Ramadon says. That was the last time he saw his mother alive. He went back to the home again with soldiers, but this time his mother wasn't there. Word had gotten out that he was helping the Americans.
"It had been ransacked; blood everywhere," says Evans.
"They shot her in front of my brothers and sisters," says Ramadon. To this day he doesn't know if any of his family members are alive, including his father who was captured.
Ramadon continued on, participating in 20 missions.
"He turned in over 40 of Saddam's top men," says Fletcher.
"My whole company -- Dragon Company 1-3rd A.C.R. -- all came back, and he was part of the reason," says Evans.
"I couldn't stay because they killed my family; they wanted me, so the US wanted to bring me here," says Ramadon.
With no family, the soldiers knew they couldn't leave Ramadon. First Sergeant Daniel Hendrex worked things out to bring Ramadon to America; even writing the story into a book -- called A Soldier's Promise.
Ramadon stayed with First Sgt. Hendrex for a while before he had to return to Iraq for another deployment. After that Ramadon spent time in the Colorado's foster system. He was attending local schools, but his late start learning English was a big setback. It gave him trouble fitting in.
"I'm 19 and I'm still learning to read and write," says Ramadon, but back then it was a bigger issue. It also made him stand out as different.
"Kids calling me terrorist at school, you know, "F" your mom and stuff; I didn't know how to react so I started getting in fights," says Ramadon.
He was also dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries; now he gets treatment at the Warrior Relaxation Response Center but back then it went undiagnosed. He's working to move forward, but he still hangs on to the past.
Ramadon doesn't have many mementos from his life in Iraq, but he has an album and in it is the only picture of his mother that he has. Ramadon found it in People Magazine after moving to America; he says the picture was likely taken just days before she was killed.
"If you look, she looks scared; really scared. She knows it, in the back of her head; something going to happen," says Ramadon.
His mother is the one Ramadon turns to in his head for strength when things get tough.
"I think she's proud of me; I know she watches over me," says Ramadon. "I don't regret that decision because this is the right thing to do, and she always taught me to do the right thing."
He also knows the right thing for him to do right now is be a good husband and father to his young family. He has hopes for them, but also for Iraq too.
"I want my daughter to go one day and say, 'Dad, I love Iraq; it's nice. That's where you grew up,'" Ramadon says. He knows that returning now is not an option - for safety issues - so it may be years down the road before that dream is a reality, but he's hopeful.
"I just want peace." It's hard to argue with Ramadon on that point.
For now, his focus is at home; getting a good job to support his family. In the mean time, soldiers that he helped in Iraq are now helping him. They're sending money and giving him rides; trying to make sure he's in a position to help his family.