A promise kept

Marine Corps Maj. Kevin Jarrard is reunited with Ammar Muhammed, 5, of Haditha, Iraq, in Charleston on Thursday. Ammar a week ago had surgery to correct a heart defect that starves the blood of oxygen.

The 5-year-old Iraqi boy sat in the Marine's lap in a spacious Mount Pleasant home, worlds away from where the two had last seen each other about a month ago.

The previous meeting was in Haditha, a city about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad. Ammar Muhammed was suffering from a heart defect that turned his skin blue. Maj. Kevin Jarrard and his fellow U.S. Marines stationed in the area had vowed to get the child lifesaving open-heart surgery in the U.S.

"The last time I had him in my lap, he was blue all over," Jarrard said, kissing the boy's forehead. "So it's nice to see him healthy again."

Jarrard learned of Ammar's plight through his father, Hammad Muhammed, a police lieutenant who has six children. They patrolled some of the same areas, and the Marine considered the policeman a brother-in-arms. Jarrard, who has four children of his own in Gainesville, Ga., said he hoped somebody would do the same for him if their roles were reversed.

"All I could do is pray that you would make it safely to America," he told the boy Thursday. "When you see the Iraqi children, it reminds you of your own children."

Ammar has Tetralogy of Fallot, a complex of four heart abnormalities that starves the blood of oxygen. One of the most common congenital heart defects, U.S. children usually have it treated surgically before their first birthday.

Jarrard, a 1995 Citadel graduate, enlisted the East Cooper Breakfast Rotary Club to help get Ammar and his father to the U.S. To pay for the surgery, the club secured a Gift of Life grant from Rotary International. The Iraqis flew to the U.S. about three weeks ago and have stayed at the Hobcaw Creek Plantation home of Rotary member Steve Peper and his wife, Cindy.

In Iraq, Jarrard promised the Muhammeds he would visit in Charleston. True to his word, he and three other members of his unit made the trip from Camp Lejeune on Thursday, as Ammar recovered a week after his surgery. The Marines had returned from overseas only a few days earlier.

Jarrard spiced his conversation with Arabic words acquired during seven months in Iraq. He told Ammar things would be zayn, or "good," and addressed the boy's father as mulazim, Arabic for "lieutenant."

Steve Peper, a 1978 Citadel graduate, retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves in 2000. He could relate to some of his fellow soldier's experiences overseas, after serving two tours as a helicopter pilot in Lebanon during the early 1980s.

If doctors clear Ammar to leave, he could return to Iraq in the middle of next week, Peper said. Before then, the Pepers had a busy schedule for the Iraqis that included trips the beach and baseball games.

Reach Noah Haglund at 937-5550 or nhaglund@postand courier.com.