By John Schaffner
Petite and young looking 21-year-old Army Specialist Gabi Cha, on two-week leave from her base in Iraq, spent most of the day Feb. 16 visiting with students at the Weber School in Sandy Springs. Her mission was to thank the students personally for the seven large packages the students sent to her unit in Iraq in December.
Army Specialist Cha, an Atlanta resident, is a member of the HHC Third Medical Command based out of Fort Gillem in south Atlanta. She and her family have been friends for years with Terri Haugen, a teacher at Weber, a Jewish community high school located just north of Abernathy Road on Roswell Road.
Cha, who signed up for eight years in the Army when she was 17, told the students during their community gathering, “Those boxes were the best miracle that has happened to us in Iraq.”
She presented a slide show that was put together by her unit, which she said is “dedicated to all those who have made it easier for us with letters and packages.” The slides showed her medical unit in Iraq, of which she is one of the youngest members, and various scenes from the base where they live, at work in the hospitals and even scenes of the ravages of the war zone.
Cha, who said she volunteered to go to Iraq to get experience, works with five hospitals in Iraq, the main one being in Baghdad. Her unit is the CEO over the operations of the five hospitals and she said she deals mainly in statistics. She said the biggest challenge is the language barrier.
After speaking to the congregation of students early in the morning, Cha spent hours going from class to class answering students’ questions and talking about her experiences. She had emailed the school and asked for the opportunity to visit with the students on her return to Atlanta on leave.
“I’m surprised and joyful that the Weber School is supporting not just me but the entire military,” she wrote to the school. “If anything gets troops going around here, it is the support that we get from people from the states, especially those we don’t even know. “Because of Terri Haugen and the support that we have gotten, which again is indescribable in words, I wanted to visit Weber School and personally greet and thank everyone.”
While talking to one of the school’s Spanish classes, Cha told the students that “mail call is the highlight of the day.” She said that, of the “seven huge packages from the Weber School” her team “kept two-and-a-half and sent the others out to other groups. Those packages traveled many miles in Iraq,” she explained.
Cha, who has been on duty in Iraq for six months, was due to return to her base there for another six months shortly after meeting with the Weber students and faculty.
Asked if there is anything she likes about Iraq, she answered with an abrupt “no.” But she told the students that the good things that are being done by the United States over there often do not get widely reported. She specifically mentioned the number of schools that have been built and a major hospital that is being built for the Iraqis to manage. She said life in Iraq is hot and uncomfortable much of the time and “it had been six months since I used a flushing toilet.”