Scott Southworth traveled to Baghdad as a National Guard captain -- but he returned home as the proud new father of an Iraqi orphan.
When Captain Scott Southworth and his troops stepped through the door of a Baghdad orphanage during their 2003 tour of duty, they received a warm welcome from one of its residents, nine year-old Ala’a. Even though he was unable to walk, Ala’a dragged himself across the floor to greet Southworth, sporting a huge grin.
That was Southworth’s first introduction to the Iraqi orphan who would change his life forever.
Southworth, a National Guard captain from Wisconsin, wasn’t looking for a child to take home when he entered that orphanage — he and the other soldiers were merely trying to raise the children’s spirits with a brief visit. But as soon as he met Ala’a, Southworth felt a special bond with the child. At the end of that first encounter, Ala’a “was trying to take off my watch, or to do anything he could to keep me from leaving the orphanage,” said Southworth.
The soldiers returned to the orphanage several times a week during the next few months, and during each visit, Southworth’s relationship with Ala’a grew stronger. Soon, Ala’a was calling Southworth his “Baba” — the Arabic word for “Daddy.”
When Southworth was informed that Ala’a, who has cerebral palsy, would soon be moved to a deplorable state-run facility for the disabled, he knew he couldn’t let that happen. Instead, he decided to bring Ala’a home with him.
After returning to Wisconsin, Southworth hired an immigration lawyer and battled for permission to bring the Iraqi child to America. Finally, in 2005, Ala’a was granted a visa to enter the United States. And on June 4th, the pair’s ultimate dream came true: Southworth was granted adoptive custody of Ala’a.
Even though the path from the orphanage to adoption was long and arduous, Southworth would do it all again in a heartbeat: “Ala’a has been so much more a blessing to me than I am to him,” he said. “I think I’ve been the lucky one.”