“Saber” medic fills in as father-figure for lost Iraqi boy
By Sgt. Mike Pryor
2nd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Public Affairs
BAGHDAD – Spc. Tyler Ratliff watches the boy dart around the room in a perpetual blur of motion, and wonders where he gets the energy. Ratliff has bags under his eyes. He hasn’t slept more than a few hours in days. But the boy is still bouncing off the walls like most eight-year-old children on a sugar fix.
“Ben, don’t touch that!” Ratliff shouts as the boy begins tinkering with an expensive digital camera. The boy puts the camera down and moves on, looking for some other mischief to get into. Ratliff just shakes his head.
It’s a scene that wouldn’t be out of place at any playground or day care center in the U.S. What’s remarkable is that it was happening at a small security base in the heart of Baghdad.
For the past week, Ratliff, a medic with Headquarters Troop, 3rd “Saber” Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, based at the Adhamiyah Joint Security Station in eastern Baghdad, has been acting as the primary guardian for an eight-year-old autistic Iraqi boy named Ben, and learning the hard way something parents all over the world know – caring for a child can be exhausting.
For Ratliff, it all began on the night of Oct. 1, when an Iraqi Police patrol came across the boy wandering alone through the streets in a deserted, industrial section of Adhamiyah. He had no identification, and didn’t respond to questions about who he was, where he was from, or even what his name was. The police, worried for the boy’s safety and at a loss as to what to do with him, decided to bring him to the district police station, which is located in the same building as the JSS.
When Capt. William Chastain, a Kennesaw, Ga. native who commands the U.S. forces at the JSS, saw the boy, he was concerned. The boy was dirty and thin, and there was no way to know how long he had been out on the streets by himself. Chastain told Ratliff to give the boy – who by then had acquired the nickname ‘Ben” – a thorough medical screening.
Up to that point, Ben had been so silent and unresponsive that the police officers thought he was mute or even brain damaged, but for some reason, he seemed to form an instant connection with Ratliff. Later that night, Ratliff fed him, gave him a bath, and dressed him in clean clothes.
Since then, the boy has rarely left Ratliff’s sight.
“I’ve basically just been babysitting him,” said Ratliff, who hails from Baytown, Texas.
Ratliff helps Ben get dressed in the mornings and makes sure he eats. He has shown him how to brush his hair and wash his hands. During the day, he keeps him entertained with soccer games and balloon animals made from surgical gloves. Mostly, Ratliff keeps an eye on Ben and tries to stop him from causing too much eight-year-old mischief.
Under Ratliff’s care, Ben has started to come out of the shell he was in from being alone on the streets. Though the boy mainly communicates in a strange language of high-pitched yips and yaps, Ratliff has gotten him to the point where he can ask for food and water.
“The first night he was here, he didn’t speak a word, but he is a lot more vocal now,” Ratliff said.
It’s been a challenge for Ratliff to keep up with Ben, who, despite his handicaps, is a pint-sized bundle of energy. Looking after him has turned into a full-time job.
“He’ll sleep for two or three hours at a time. Then he wakes up and tries to make a break for it,” he said.
While Ratliff has been watching after Ben, the Iraqi Police have been attempting to locate his real family. The police commander, Maj. Nadham, distributed the boy’s picture to police officers in the area where he was found. The Iraqi Police (IPs) have been showing the photo to people every day, hoping someone might recognize him or give them a clue to his identity.
There is also the unfortunate possibility that Ben may have been abandoned, and his family doesn’t want him back. With that in mind, the JSS leadership is working with Iraqi government officials to locate an orphanage that can support the boy’s special needs. Chastain said he will probably hear an answer in a matter of days.
In the meantime, Ben has become a fixture at the JSS. On a recent afternoon, the boy was spinning stones on a folding table outside, giving a friendly yelp to each Soldier who came through the door and fending off Ratliff’s attempts to feed him an orange. He was dressed in a surgical smock that hung down to his knees and hugely oversized tennis shoes. Ratliff genially chased after him as he ducked through the legs of Soldiers waiting in line for chow, and bounced into the arms of other Soldiers coming in from guard duty.
For Soldiers like Morse, La., native Spc. Howard Leleux, having Ben around has been a welcome change of pace.
“It’s a big morale boost, honestly,” Leleux said. “I have a six-year-old of my own and some of the things (Ben) does reminds me of him.”
Chastain joked that Ben’s presence has turned the JSS into a day care center, but said he was impressed with how Ratliff has assumed responsibility for Ben’s welfare.
“Ratliff’s done a great job,” he said. “He’s shown a lot of maturity.”
Ratliff, who has no children of his own, said the experience has given him a whole new perspective on how difficult the job of caring for a child can be.
“I really appreciate my Mom a lot more now,” he said with a weary chuckle.
(I love this picture!)
Baytown, Texas native Spc. Tyler Ratliff, a medic with Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Stewart, Ga., holds an autistic Iraqi boy nicknamed Ben in his arms at the Adhamiyah Joint Security Station Oct. 7. Ratliff has been acting as a surrogate big brother for Ben, who was found wandering the streets alone by Iraqi Police officers, while authorities attempt to locate his parents. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs)
A rare still moment for “Ben,” a hyperactive autistic Iraqi boy who was found wandering the streets alone by Iraqi Police officers. The boy is being temporarily cared for by police and U.S. Soldiers at the Adhamiyah Joint Security Station in eastern Baghdad while authorities search for his family. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs)
Baytown, Texas native Spc. Tyler Ratliff, a medic with Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Stewart, Ga., opens a Meal-Ready-to-Eat package for an autistic Iraqi boy nicknamed Ben at the Adhamiyah Joint Security Station Oct. 7. Ratliff has been acting as a surrogate big brother for Ben, who was found wandering the streets alone by Iraqi Police, while authorities attempt to locate the boy’s parents. (U.S. Army photo)
Morse, La., native Spc. Howard Leleux (left) and Baytown, Texas native Spc. Tyler Ratliff (right), both from Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Stewart, Ga., play with eight-year-old “Ben,” an autistic Iraqi boy the Soldiers have temporarily adopted, at the Adhamiyah Joint Security Station Oct. 7. The Soldiers have been looking after Ben, who was found wandering the streets alone by Iraqi police Oct. 2, while authorities attempt to locate his parents. (U.S. Army photo)
In the past couple months I have been catching a great deal of flack for my blog painting a false ‘rosy picture’ of the war. Particularly my post… Atrocities Uncovered in Iraq
I would like to take a little bit if space here to respond:
First and foremost: It is my blog. If I want to say that pickled beets are disgusting (which they are), I can say it. I am not forcing any one to read anything that I share. If you are upset with my blog, then move on. There are millions of bloggers, many of whom are excellent writers!
Secondly, and equally important: I post the feel good stories because I like them! The ‘main stream’ media is already covering the negative aspects of the war. (whether or not their journalism is factual is yet to be determined). Because I see very few positive stories about the fantastic work of our Warriors, I choose to post them myself.
If the good that is being done in the Middle East distresses you, please just move along. I personally enjoy this side of the story!
Hugs out to all of our Men and Women in all aspects of the Armed Forces.
Note to my L’il Trooper: Did you get the new hat and does it work to keep the sun out of your eyes?