Updated Mon, Apr 2, 2012 10:22 am
To most of us, Iraq is a newspaper headline, a far-away, foreign country which we don't think about much.
That's not the case for Rick Welch of McConnelsville. Welch is a retired Army Reserve Colonel who spent more than six years stationed in Iraq.
Working with the government of Iraq, the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Forces, he led several national reconciliation initiatives over a four year period.
Now he's involved with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, which helps Iraqi refugees navigate the rules and processes of resettlement in the U.S.
"The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project is a non-profit project, it's a pro bono type organization that is a partnership between Yale Law School at Yale University and the Urban Justice Center in New York City," Welch said.
The director of IRAP is Rebecca Heller.
"I came in contact with her because I had a lot of contacts in Iraq. A lot of Iraqis that worked for the coalition or the American forces there that were applying for immigration to the United States under the Special Immigration Visa Program for those who work with us and other friends who needed to leave Iraq because of the dangers. So a friend I had introduced me to Rebecca Heller by e-mail, and then I met her a few weeks ago in New York City when I was at the Council on Foreign Relations. So they, I've acted as sort of an advisor to them on issues related to the dangers for Iraqis, typical circumstances for Iraqis who work for us," said Welch.
The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project helps families escape from harm and persecution, a goal which Welch fully supports.
"There are two reasons in particular that I would like to help Iraqis that I know who believe in America, who trusted in America and who now need the protection and help from America," said Welch. "One is that those Iraqis, many of them kept me alive for 77 months. You know, they really protected me and there wasn't anything that I needed that they didn't help me with. When I asked them for help they stood up, even amidst great danger for them. So for that reason, I feel an obligation and a duty to help them."
Welch's second reason involves a Vietnamese man who worked for America during the Vietnam war.
Welch became friends with the man who asked him to try to find out what happened to the man's 30-year-old application to emigrate to the U.S.
Welch checked it out, only to find the man had not qualified.
"A year and a half later when I went back to Vietnam, I had to find him and break that news to him," Welch said. "He was literally on his death bed. He had become very ill in the two years that I had been gone. You know, the tears were coming down his face, and he thanked me for trying but he said if there is anyway to get my family out of here, I would appreciate it. So you know, I took that with me when I went to Iraq, and after I met the great Iraqi people, I said I don't want that to happen to anyone who deserved, who worked for us especially so that's the second reason that I feel an obligation to follow through."
During his time in Iraq, Welch compiled more than 60 journals and said he received thousands of pages of letters and documents from Iraqis.
He says he's pulling all that together in order to write about his experience and, in his words, "lessons learned or that should be learned from our adventure in Iraq."