CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The thin blue line, it seems, extends from the United States to right here in Fallujah, Iraq.
A California man who spent a career serving and protecting the citizens of his country breached an ocean and a culture to extend a helping hand to a fellow police officer wounded in the line of duty.
When Mike Bullian learned about the story of H. Iad Abed, a 25-year-old police officer from Fallujah, he felt compelled to help.
“I have always felt that a good cop anywhere in the world is a brother cop,” said Bullian, a recently retired special agent supervisor for the California Department of Justice. “In law enforcement, we feel as if we are a family, especially when one of us is hurt or killed.”
Bullian told the story of his efforts to help Abed in an e-mail exchange.
Bullian collected $532, roughly equivalent to an Iraqi police officer’s monthly salary, in donations to assist the wounded man. The money was presented to Abed Aug. 2 at Camp Fallujah’s surgical facility.
Abed was severely injured by an improvised explosive device during a patrol through the streets of Fallujah June 15. His right hand and right foot bore the brunt of the blast and he was taken to the city’s Fallujah General Hospital for initial treatment.
Two days later he was brought to Camp Fallujah to be seen by the Navy doctors of Field Resuscitative Surgical System 3.
“His right leg was amputated above the knee and his right hand was heavily damaged,” said Navy Capt. James Schneider, a 49-year-old from Norfolk, Va. and the officer-in-charge of FRSS 3. “And, his wounds were grossly infected.”
Abed was admitted into Schneider’s care the evening of June 17. An hour and a half surgery on the following day resulted in the complete amputation of Abed’s right hand and the removal of dirt and debris from his other wounds. He was then stabilized for evacuation to Baghdad for further treatment.
Although the unit has treated many Iraqi soldiers, it was the first time the doctors of FRSS 3 operated on an Iraqi police officer.
“The staff really bent over backwards to help him,” said Lt. Col. Frank Charlonis, Regimental Combat Team 5’s Police Implementation Officer, who was present the night Abed was brought to Fallujah Surgical.
Schneider described the episode in his next e-mail to the states, which he sends every few days to update his friends and family.
“I learned about the Iraqi officer from Jim,” Bullian explained. “Jim and I are buddies from high school and I am on his e-mail list for letters from Iraq. His description of the officer’s wounds, and what his life span was likely to be, really got to me.”
With no formal medical benefit plan and little hope of a steady and sustaining government pension, the doctor’s prognoses for Abed’s future was not good.
“It’s a complicated situation because amputees are considered unnecessary and a drain on the family,” explained Schneider of local culture.
Bullian, who has been wounded several times in the line of duty throughout his own career, knew that he wanted to do something to help the police officer.
“I felt a connection with this Iraqi officer,” Bullian said. “Being a cop anywhere is a tough job. I really feel for these guys who are trying to start a law enforcement agency, and tradition, from scratch. I think they have a lot of guts to take on this job.”
Bullian set out to collect donations for the stricken police officer.
“Since I retired, I started teaching at some of the local police training centers in California,” he said. “I do firearms classes for in-service police officers. It was at these classes that I passed the hat for the Iraqi cop.”
The donations came from members of the Citrus Heights California Police Department, California Department of Forestry, California Department of Fish and Game and the California Department of Justice. Bullian’s kids and brother also kicked in donations.
Even with the donation, Abed will face some daunting challenges as he learns to get around Fallujah in a wheelchair, according to Charlonis.
“The city does not have amenities to support handicapped people like we have in the states,” he explained. “It will not be easy for him.”
Still, Abed knows that he will never be completely alone. He will have his department, the Marines and Bullian looking out for him.
“Mike’s always been one to get involved. It’s characteristic of him,” Schneider explained of his friend’s desire to help.
Bullian doesn’t think he went above his call to duty in helping Abed. His actions, he said, aren’t anything above what any other cop around the globe would do.
“I don’t really look at it as building a bridge, just helping out a brother in need,” Bullian said. “I just hope we can help.”