Russell Hayes has learned that one man's coincidences can be another family's miracles.
Brother Hayes is a Church convert and a war veteran who flew helicopters in Vietnam decades ago. After being discharged from the U.S. Army, he went about the business of starting a family and a professional aviation career. His days in uniform, he believed, were far behind him.
Then in 2007 he was unexpectedly summoned back to active military duty as a helicopter pilot. He learned he would be deployed to Iraq. His first impulse was to fight the orders. But after much prayer, his wife, Carmen, told him that perhaps the abrupt changes happening in his life were meant to be.
"Why fight it?" she said. "Maybe God has a reason for you to go to Iraq."
Brother Hayes said that reason became a bit clearer a short time after leaving his Idaho home and arriving in Iraq. The chief warrant officer stumbled across an article in a local newspaper that told the story of an Iraqi man who had been involved in fighting fires. The article mentioned that the man, Abdul Salman, was the father of six children — three of whom (Seja, Ali and Bara) were born with various forms of dwarfism.
The story evoked a deep emotion inside Brother Hayes. He and Sister Hayes are the parents of six children. Their youngest, 11-year-old Corina, has dwarfism.
Brother Hayes made arrangements to visit the family in Baghdad and learn more about their circumstances. He found a family dealing with a host of difficulties. The three Salman children with dwarfism (two girls and a boy) — ages 13, 9 and 8 — were all in need of surgeries to remain healthy, mobile and reasonably independent. Mr. Salman himself was partially paralyzed from a gunshot wound he suffered fighting years earlier in the Iraq-Iran War.
The American soldier's heart immediately went out to the family, but he realized there was not much he could do to help. The family had sought the help of local doctors, but little assistance could be found.
Then a series of frightening events changed the course for the Salman family. Mr. Salman had been working as a laborer with a few of his relatives inside the U.S. military "Green Zone" outside Baghdad. One day he was approached by a group of Iraqi insurgents demanding that Mr. Salman and his relatives help them kill Americans. They refused and trouble began.
Two of Mr. Salman's relatives were abducted a short time later. One would later die from the beatings he endured at the hands of his captors. The Salmans found themselves in grave danger. Because Mr. Salman was being targeted for his association with the U.S. government, the family was eligible to apply for a special refugee visa that would allow them to move to the United States.
Brother Hayes took the lead role in working to secure the visa. He was granted permission to spend extra time working on the request by a high-ranking officer based in Baghdad. That man, a full colonel, was also the father of a child with dwarfism.
Last June, the Salman family left Iraq and moved to the United States. Brother Hayes no longer asks himself why he unexpectedly found himself in uniform decades after the Vietnam War. "This is Heavenly Father making miracles," he said.
Abdul and Warda Salman and their children are practicing Muslims. Their beliefs are dramatically different from those of their new American friends. "But Mr. Salman himself sometimes says to me 'mua'geza, mua'geza,' — which is Arabic for 'a miracle.' "
The Salmans are now renting a home next to the Hayes home in Kuna, Idaho. Although the family members no longer fear for their lives, they still face many challenges. Leaving Iraq and settling in English-speaking western Idaho has been a huge culture shock. There are not many Iraqis or Muslims in Kuna. There have been a few misunderstandings along the way.
"But despite that, we all love each other," said Brother Hayes.
The local Church members have also done much to help, donating furniture and cooking and kitchen supplies to help the Salmans settle into their new home.
The producers of the popular television program "Little People, Big World" have also provided valuable assistance to the Salman family.
The children who have dwarfism are still in need of costly surgeries. Mr. Salman, meanwhile, is hoping to soon enroll in a barber college. "We're doing all that we can to help the family become self-sufficient," said Brother Hayes, who also directs the International Dwarf Advocacy Association.