Modestan goes extra mile to help crippled Iraqi boy

03/31/2008 1:25 AM

03/31/2008 6:23 AM

Call it the little miracle made in Modesto.

A combat medic in Iraq used Modesto as the launching pad for a goodwill gesture that now gives a young Iraqi a chance to move around with the aid of donated crutches.

The medic, Michael Duncan, an 18-year-old former Downey High School student and Elliott Alternative Education Center graduate, presented the gifts to Ali, a 14-year-old Iraqi, earlier this month.

It has been less than a year since Duncan enlisted in the Army and just three months and change since he deployed to Iraq. He met Ali in January.

"We were out on foot patrol on the Euphrates River," Duncan said in a telephone interview from his base in Iraq. "We cut through (this one) back yard and talked to the family. (Ali) came out struggling. His legs were crippled and the sticks he was using (for crutches) were more like ski poles. He couldn't keep his balance. He kept falling down."

When Duncan returned to his forward operating base, he tried to do something to help. But neither the medical supply sergeant nor his superiors could offer help or hope.

"They said American medical equipment was only for American personnel," recalled Duncan. "I took our case to the physician assistant; that's who I work for."

But the answer from above still was no.

That's when Duncan and his platoon leader, 1st Lt. Ryan Daly, went to Plan B.

"I ordered them online," he said.

The crutches were delivered to his Modesto home and repackaged and shipped to Iraq. The company could not deliver them directly.

Even after the crutches arrived, it was a week or so before Duncan could deliver them. And not everyone in Ali's family was thrilled.

"Three of the men in the home (Ali's father and two uncles) were suspected insurgents," he said. "They were appreciative (for Ali) but they still showed their dislike (for us)."

Duncan said he has had more experience treating enemy wounded than his fellow GIs.

"If they're still alive when the shooting stops, the Geneva Conventions say we fix them," he said. "I have no problem with that. They're people, just like us."

He has lost two fellow soldiers from his unit. He said he didn't get much of a chance to help, even though he was nearby when one got hit.

"They were blown up and there's not much left to treat," he said. "We were on foot. A lot (of improvised explosive devices) are meant for vehicles. The pressure plates (that trigger them) are hidden so well, and anything will set them off."

His parents, Kevin and Trina Duncan of Modesto, could hardly be prouder of their son.

"He's my hero," Kevin said. "When he went into the military, he surprised all of us when he went on to become a medic.

"(Michael) told me God put (being a medic) on his heart so all his buddies could come home alive," he said. "His fuse is lit and I'm just watching him head for the stars."

Trina said there are some things a mother never is quite prepared for.

"He's a little kid in my eyes," she said. "I could never imagine my little baby in a war."

Her worst moments as a mother can come at any time.

"It hits me out of the blue," she said. "I worry about the dangers he's in. I have to pray or I'd go crazy."

She said she is gratified to have a son trying to do the right thing.

"It's great to have something good or positive come out of all this," she said. "We've sent candy and lollipops for the soldiers to give the kids. This (gift to Ali) goes just a little deeper."

Dad and Mom hope to catch a glimpse of their son up close and personal by this week. Michael is due for a leave and his sister is getting married Friday.

The Duncans remain uncertain about how much they'll see of their son when he comes home. Michael has asked his folks to bring his girlfriend, Michelle, to meet him at the airport. Michelle is a Ripon High School senior.

A mitigating factor might help the Duncans during Michael's leave. They have met Michelle and their son hasn't.

"They have talked in every conceivable way except face to face," Kevin said. The young couple got acquainted online after he went to Iraq.

Mom reveled in her idea on how to help Michelle and Michael at the airport. "We'll have her hold up a sign" which will read:

"Hi Mike! I'm your girlfriend."

Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins may be reached at rhoskins@modbee.com or 578-2311.

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