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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Unarmed Heroes

Our son is currently an International Medical Corps aid worker, stationed in Lebanon. Maybe that’s why we were hit so hard by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s cavalier attitude about the treatment Kaci Hickox was subjected to upon her return after treating Ebola patients in West Africa. 

For nearly 20 years Dave has been engaged in humanitarian aid work, beginning with a two-year stint in Kazakhstan with the Peace Corps. He was working in Afghanistan the day the Twin Towers fell 13 years ago. From there he spent a year in Darfur, Sudan, providing primary health care, maternal and child health, water and sanitation to a village of 13,000 in an area ravaged by war. Other hotspots have been Niger, Nigeria, and Congo. 

We hold our breaths daily as we watch the news of hostage-taking and beheadings. He’ll return to his wife and our six-year-old granddaughter at his home in London next week after six weeks in Beirut, overseeing the nine mobile medical units and 45 health facilities serving more than 680,000 Syrian refugees with health awareness sessions. 

Our family has a history of holding its breath while loved ones were at risk overseas. During World War II my uncle Al went down with his ship shortly after Pearl Harbor, during the battle of the Java Sea. He was captured by the Japanese and held in a POW camp for the rest of the war. For three years my grandparents knew only that he was missing in action. My uncle Richard was captured by the Nazis in Belgium and held as a POW for a year. Both of them returned home, but Uncle Richard spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. 

During several of our son’s country assignments we could not communicate with him for weeks at a time. Fortunately, we have been able to stay in touch through Skype during his Lebanon assignment. 

Which all brings me back to Gov. Christie’s take on the way Hickox was treated upon returning home after her heroism in West Africa, passing it off with, “There’s been all kinds of malarkey about this. She was inside the hospital in a climate-controlled area with access to her cell phone, access to the internet, and takeout food from the best restaurants in Newark. She was doing just fine.” 

Doctors agree that Hickox has been symptom-free and incapable of passing along the Ebola virus since her return to this country. But even if she had been infectious, treating her like a pariah and not the humanitarian hero she is only shows how driven Christie is by political opportunism than responsible leadership. 

At a public event every time a speaker invites members of the military to stand and be recognized for their service I applaud loudly together with everyone else. But I also wonder if there ever will come a day when others who served this country heroically, but without bearing arms, will get equal recognition.

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