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Army Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe, American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Dec. 19, 2008 –
The U.S. Army may take Col. Roy House out of Iraq. But Iraq will never really be out of House -- and his mark here will long outlast his deployment.
House, a member of the Arkansas National Guard and a soldier of 38 years, has spent the past 18 months here assisting the Iraqi judiciary in the administration of juvenile justice. As an Army lawyer, he was assigned the task of mentoring and encouraging officials of the Republic of Iraq’s juvenile police, juvenile courts and juvenile rehabilitation institutions.
In January, instead of dodging roadside bombs on his frequent visits to the Iraqi courthouse, House will be retiring to his home in Searcy, Ark., where he will get reacquainted with his family and return to his private law practice.
For the man who volunteered to deploy 12 times before he was mobilized here in June 2007 and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, Multinational Division Center, the life change is bittersweet. “I get to sow the seeds that someone else will reap,” he said.
Because of his background in civil and government law, specifically as a former judge in juvenile courts, House was assigned to the State Department’s Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team to assist the Iraqi judiciary in the administration of juvenile justice.
Of the many initiatives House worked on, he said he is most proud of two projects he helped bring to the Iraqi people. He enlisted the help of Iraqi lawyers in educating citizens about the rule of law -- a principle that no one is above the law -- something some Americans may take for granted but is foreign to Iraqis. He also helped educate Iraqi citizens on the privilege of voting, and how they can now decide who will lead them.
House also assisted in the creation of a nongovernmental organization that would pay private attorneys to write articles in local newspapers explaining subjects such as democracy, human rights and the functions of government. The program allows the typical Iraqi citizen, who has never had a civics lesson, to learn how their new government works and how to participate it its growth.
“It was 100 percent his idea,” Richard Hawkins, leader of the PRT in Mada’in, said of House. “He found the guys who would do it; he helped create the NGO. From there, professional pride took over and now well over a dozen articles and more are published every week.”
“He is a good man with a big heart,” Hawkins said.
House became so engrossed in his work that he decided to extend his 12-month tour to 18 months.
“He did not need to stay here,” Hawkins said. “He had fulfilled his obligations. He stayed here because he felt that strongly about what he was doing.”
House said his most memorable moment in Iraq came while he was on a routine patrol to a courthouse in April when his convoy came under enemy fire. His actions that day earned him a Combat Action Badge.
That same month, he joined the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team when it replaced the 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in the Mada’in Qada, in the Baghdad province.
He speaks fondly of the Iron Brigade. “They think further down the road. They are used to thinking ahead,” he said. “Armor moves down the road at 20 to 30 mph, and they have to think about what happens further down.”
House also was awarded the Bronze Star for his exceptionally meritorious service as the Rule of Law advisor while deployed here.
For himself, however, he said the deployment was always about his passion for the law and the Iraqi juvenile justice system. He witnessed and reported on deplorable conditions of juveniles in the Iraqi court system to his superiors and to Iraqi judges. He enlisted the assistance of the United Nations Children’s Fund, formerly UNICEF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to improve the conditions.
“Seeing human beings in these conditions would make you cry,” House said. “No one would allow animals to live in such deplorable conditions in America.”
House arranged a meeting in Amman, Jordan, with the organizations and 30 Iraqi judges, lawyers and senior government officials responsible for juvenile justice. As a result of the meeting, the U.N. and other international groups provided assistance to Iraq’s juvenile justice system. As a result, Iraq’s juvenile delinquents and neglected children receive improved care.
“The Iraqi judges are pretty good,” House said in his soft, southern drawl. “There is nothing wrong with their judges. I have never heard of them breaking the law or taking a bribe. I have a lot of confidence in their judiciary.”
House also brought people together to establish the second NGO to hire educators, teachers and administrators that would eventually develop a civics education curriculum to be tested in the Mada’in Qada.
About the size of Washington, D.C., the Mada’in is a microcosm of Iraq and the perfect choice for curriculum all of Iraq ultimately will adopt, House said. The course includes a 30-minute civics lesson in each class, at each grade level, each week throughout the school year. It is backed by Iraq’s ministries of Education and Human Rights as well as the U.S. State Department.
During his time in the military, House said he remembers the people and units more than the things that happened.
“I have worked with the 82nd, 101st, 1st ID, 3rd ID … They are a professional group of people,” he said.
Asked what he might miss when he gets back to the United States, House said with a chuckle, “I might go back to Iraq.
“I am an adopted member of the Borjet tribe,” he explained, “so I have family out here. I have a ‘nephew’ now that is as old as I am.
“Really, they are a great people, and I love them. I just wish I had been able to do more. Maybe I will go back.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe works in the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)