For the first time in 18 years, retired Lt. Col. Greg Pepin saw the baby he saved from almost certain death at the hands of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Awaz Barwari, a 22-year-old Kurd, had been approved to leave Iraq in December 1996, but her newborn child, Lava, was not being allowed to go because the infant’s name was not on Hussein’s kill list.
On Thursday, Pepin attended Lava’s high school graduation — in Georgia.
“I told the [Iraqi official] I wasn’t leaving without my baby,” Barwari told Fox 5 Atlanta, recalling the day she fled the grip of the ruthless dictator.
“He said I could leave her with other family in Iraq or not leave Iraq,” she said.
Barwari told the man she wasn’t leaving, and that’s when Pepin spotted her dilemma and stepped in.
“I told them if the baby’s name was ‘Greg,’ she could come with me under my passport,” he told the Fox affiliate. “They didn’t understand what I was trying to do at first, but then they realized I was trying to help.”
So Baby Lava became Baby Greg for the duration of the life-saving flight out of Iraq.
And 18 years later, the Iraqi family went the extra measure to find Pepin and invite him to attend her graduation.
“He changed our lives,” Barwari said. “He saved our lives and wouldn’t be here without him.”
Pepin said the moment made him “proud to be an American.”
“This is a real testament to this family’s character and their ability to make the most of their opportunities,” he said.
“I’m proud to live in a country that welcomes people in and helps them live a better life.”
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