The wife of a slain Iraqi informant who helped protect North Dakota troops is ready to begin her new life in Fargo.
The woman arrived at the Fargo Jet Center late Friday with six of her children; a seventh followed about two hours later on another private flight. The moment was the culmination of a harrowing, secretive effort to save the family, one that began with the work of a couple of North Dakota National Guardsmen.
"She knew they would not let them down. She knew they would get them to safety," Rep. Earl Pomeroy said Saturday. "And she was right."
Members of the Valley City -based 141st befriended the family in Iraq through its patriarch, a man the troops codenamed "Mr. M" for his efforts at gathering intelligence on roadside bombs and weapons caches. Many of the North Dakota troops took to the family as their own.
About five of the Guard members waited at the Jet Center Friday night for the family to land.
"It's an overwhelming feeling," Spec. Randy Flieth said. "It's the next best thing to getting married or having a child."
The children, ages 4 weeks to 13 years, can't speak English, but some of them recognized their former house guests with gestures. Their father had kept photos of the troops on the walls of his home, along with an American flag, Pomeroy said.
"Hi guys," one of the boys said when he saw the troops.
Guard members hugged the children and gave them presents.
Mr. M was killed in January, shortly before the 141st began leaving Iraq. Someone pulled him from his pickup and shot him repeatedly while one of his sons watched. A $10,000 bounty was later put on the boy's head, Pomeroy said.
Despite the 141st's departure soon after her husband's death, Mr. M's wife told Pomeroy her faith never faltered in the unit.
"My children have lost a father, but I know when I get them to the United States they'll have many fathers," she once told Pomeroy through an interpreter.
Capt. Grant Wilz and SFC Shayne Beckert were the two 141st members who first sought support to relocate the family. The effort was long and dangerous. On April 30 a bomb exploded near where Mrs. M was in line for a passport, and shrapnel badly damaged her 2-year-old daughter's eye.
As time neared for the move, a convoy of armored cars and a helicopter guided the family into the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Pomeroy said. The group flew to Jordan on Tuesday, then arrived at JFK Airport in New York City on Friday.
Wilz and Beckert were there to greet their old friends. Then they flew back to Fargo with them.
Beckert called it one of the three best moments in his life, next to his marriage and the birth of his son.
"I woke up this morning and couldn't believe they were here," he said Saturday.
The U.S. government allowed the family into the country on "special parole," a status given only 38 other times during the fighting in Iraq, Pomeroy said.
Mrs. M and her children must attain refugee status to stay permanently in the U.S. Pomeroy said the chances for that being granted are high.
Meanwhile, the children will adjust to their new surroundings. Guard members plan to play a large role in their lives.
"You have never met a more dynamic set of kids," Wilz said. "Polite, kind, honest."
Before their father's death, Mr. M devoted his life to helping the 141st, which was responsible for clearing roadways of bombs.
"He was tireless in his efforts to gather information," Wilz said. "He made a lot of rounds."
When the military approached him about working with someone higher in the chain of command, Mr. M insisted on staying with the Guard unit.
U.S. officials believe Mr. M's extended family is still at risk in Iraq, so anonymity of Mrs. M and her children has been insisted upon, even in Fargo.
Pomeroy would say that they are living in the Fargo area and plan to stay here. Lutheran Social Services has collected about $33,000 so far for the family, and more donations are sought. More information about that effort can be found at www.lssnd.org
Wilz and Beckert will talk more about their reunion with the family Monday on Hot Talk with Scott Hennen at 970 WDAY.
Reporter Dave Olson contributed to this article. Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538 Readers can reach Forum reporter Barbara Raus at (701) 235-7311