During the idle hours Joshua Key spent guarding a children’s hospital in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, where he’d been stationed as a soldier in the US Army, it was the daily visits from a little girl that kept him sane.
Oblivious to the turmoil around her, the girl of about 6 or 7, whom he called “little sister,” would run up to his post and say breathlessly the only English words she seemed to know: “Mister, food.”
Each time, he’d hand her his field ration, often sacrificing the one item he could stand to eat — the beef enchilada. Eventually she began bringing him homemade flatbread and water from the Euphrates River. The little sister’s smile reminded him of his own kids, and he looked forward to seeing it on those days when time seemed to stand still.
One of those visits changed the course of his life. Key remembers it vividly — he was perched on a rock, watching her run towards him, when suddenly, the sound of a gunshot pierced the air.