By Katie Fallon
katiefallon@reporternewspapers.net

While many Americans may witness the plight of wounded soldiers on their nightly news, the Kiwanis Club of Sandy Springs recently brought that reality face-to-face with its members.

At its June 7 lunch meeting, the club’s featured topic was “Rehabilitation of a Country at War.” The guest of honor was Capt. Furat, an Iraqi Army officer who was shot 12 times for joining the ranks of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces in 2003. Paralyzed from the waist down, Furat now receives treatment at Buckhead’s Shepherd Center, the nationally renowned hospital specializing in rehabilitating patients with spinal cord injuries,

The journey of Capt. Furat, whose real name is concealed to protect him and his family still living in Iraq, begins after the “shock and awe” campaign in Baghdad that saw the fall of former Iraqi president Sadam Hussein in April, 2003.

Furat, who had previously served in the Iraqi army under Hussein, began working with Special Forces that year because he said he realized American soldiers were in Iraq for a good reason. He had been an officer with the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division. Furat was even shot during a confrontation with U.S. forces during the fall of Hussein, but it was while he was recuperating from that injury that he saw the purpose of the coalition forces.

“The first time I saw the U.S. Army in my city, I hated it because I said these guys were here to steal my country, to steal the money in my country, to steal the people. But I saw them try to build a hospital, build a school and I changed my mind,” Furat said. “I said the U.S. army came to help, not like some bad people who come to steal. I decided to go work for them.”

Furat’s new opinion of America and its troops was indeed remarkable, especially because of his upbringing. He said when he was a child in school under Hussein’s regime, he was always told by his teachers that America was his number one enemy.

It was in December, 2005 when fate intervened with Furat’s plan to help protect and rebuild his country. Around Christmas time, he traveled to Diyala to visit his family, which includes a Christian mother and Muslim father. Despite the danger he knew the trip would include, he was willing to take the risk of getting hurt or killed just to be with his family for the holidays.

“The terrorists were looking for me,” Furat said. “In my city, the first target was Capt. Furat. But I had guns with me and I had God.”

The terrorists, unfortunately, found their target. While visiting his mother, Furat was attacked by four men bearing AK-47’s. He was shot a dozen times and today, he vividly remembers his mindset after being attacked.

“I said this was my day to die,” Furat said.

However, Furat amazingly survived getting hit with a dozen bullets, eleven of which were removed. After spending two months in a Balad hospital, Furat was taken to Atlanta while his family was left behind. He has since remained a high-level target of insurgents, who have sent his family letters stating they vowed to find Furat and kill him.

“The terrorist are still looking for me,” Furat states matter-of-factly.

One of Furat’s main allies during his time at Shepherd has been Capt. Deborah Revis. In addition to serving as the vice president of clinical services at Shepherd, Revis is also a member of the Navy Reserves. She serves as Furat’s military liaison and has witnessed the progress he has made since his arrival in Atlanta in February of last year.

“[Furat] is the strongest man I’ve ever met, the bravest man I’ve ever met, the most courageous man I’ve ever met and the best man I’ve ever met.” Revis said.

The captain, who also spoke to the Kiwanis Club about how Americans can help wounded soldiers and their families, said Furat is the same person he was before, but that he just moves in a different way now.

Similarly, Furat does not shy away from explaining the role Shepherd has played in saving his life.

“Shepherd now for me is not just a hospital,” he said. “I love this hospital. This hospital is like my second home.”

Indeed, Atlanta may become Capt. Furat’s permanent home. He is currently in the process of filing for asylum so he will not have to return to Iraq, which he said is tantamount to a death sentence. In the meantime, the Army officer is writing a book about his wartime experience and hopes to eventually attend medical school.

Furat said that despite the divisive nature of the war in Iraq, he fully supports the efforts of American soldiers and the coalition forces.

“They fight for my freedom and my country’s freedom,” he said.