CJTF-HOA Chaplain meets 'Ethiopian Daughter'

On March 11, Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel David Terrinoni met a 15-year-old Ethiopian girl whom his twin 25-year-old daughters have supported every month for 10 years since they were in middle school, deciding on their own to tithe their babysitting and birthday money on the girl’s behalf.

Terrinoni, who is the deputy director of Religious Affairs for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, presented several gifts to Medina Hyredin and her parents at their home in suburban Addis Alem, located about 60 km west of the capitol city Addis Ababa. Terrinoni traveled to Ethiopia as part of his regular visits to CJTF-HOA units deployed throughout East Africa.

The meeting occurred because of chaplain’s affiliation with Compassion International (CI), a Christian organization that facilitates the sponsorship of more than 1 million children throughout 26 countries to provide them with medicine, health care, food supplies, school funding and clothing. According to their website, CI was founded in 1952 by Reverend Everett Swanson.

“Back in 2000, my daughters were very active in Minot Air Force Base’s Chapel youth program which sponsored a Christian Rock concert featuring the Grammy nominated band, Newsboys. The band members encouraged people to support Compassion International,” said Terrinoni. “It was then that Alanna and Marissa decided that they wanted to make a difference in someone’s life and give $28 a month.”

As a father, Terrinoni said he was proud of his daughters’ commitment when they decided to sponsor Hyredin. He and his wife made some internet checks to ensure the organization was legitimate, and supported their decision.

Alanna, who got married in January 2010, decided to continue the sponsorship. She and her husband, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Barresi, are currently stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. “After I deployed here to Africa, it was Alanna who reminded me that Hyredin lived in Ethiopia,” said Terrinoni. “I asked her where and she gave me all the information.”

In his duties as a chaplain, Terrinoni traveled to Ethiopia around the holiday season and decided to try and reach out to Hyredin. But, due to mandatory background checks and a required two-month notice, he was unable to meet with her.

“I was impressed with how stringent their background checks were and how they go to great lengths to protect the children,” said Terrinoni. “I knew I would have another chance to travel there.”

When he became aware of an opportunity to visit Ethiopia again, Terrinoni reached out to CI and the CJTF - HOA’s military Country Coordination Element (CCE) assigned to the U.S. States Embassy to coordinate the March visit.

Terrinoni was provided a list of suggested gifts for Hyredin and her family. Because he had not bought gifts for a teenage girl in 10 years, he needed some assistance.

“I went to the Navy Exchange and picked out a backpack, towels, candy, toiletries and school supplies but I struggled to pick out the right clothes,” said Terrinoni. “I thought a watch might be nice, but I was at a loss.”

U.S. Marine Corps Captain Talisha Johnson, assigned to the CJTF - HOA Finance Office, was there to provide assistance.

“I held up one outfit and she said, ‘that’s cute, but not for a 15 year old,’” said Terrinoni. “So she took over and went shopping. She bought some nice smelling bath treatment, a vest and a nice watch. She really made a difference.”

“I think what the chaplain and his family did was admirable,” said Johnson. “It was pretty fun to go shopping.”

Terrinoni also printed out family photos, including the photos from both daughters’ 2010 weddings.

When Terrinoni and U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Antoine Roach, religious program specialist, arrived at the CI office in Addis Alem, he was allowed to see Hyredin’s file which contained a detailed summary of her school progress. One part of the file contained a piece of his daughters’ childhood.

“Within the file was a composition book that contained all the letters back and forth from my daughters to Medina,” he said. “It was all written in the Amharic language, but when I saw ‘Marissa and Alanna, I of course knew it was my kids.”

The book also had the English translated letters from Medina to his daughters, and a detailed summary of all the donations they sent.

Fekadu Hailu, who was assigned to escort and translate for Terrinoni and Roach, was also sponsored by CI. He recently graduated from college and told them that the organization made a difference in his life.

“When we pulled up, both Medina and her mom were both holding bouquets of flowers,” said Terrinoni. “She was very quiet, but I told her that I was happy to meet her and how excited Marissa and Alanna were that I had the opportunity to meet her. I also told her that that they wished they could be there too.”

Medina, who is the youngest of five daughters, was fascinated to see photos of all the East African countries that Terrinoni had traveled to during his six-month deployment. She was especially interested in the cheetahs Terrinoni photographed while at a preserve in Kenya.

Terrinoni also showed her photos of Alanna’s military wedding and Marissa’s outdoor wedding. Hyredin then told him she would put them on her wall and pray for the entire family.

“When I gave her the vest and the watch, the first thing she did was put on the watch,” he said. “So I knew at that moment that the good Marine Captain chose very well.”

Terrinoni discovered that Hyredin’s father is an unemployed day laborer. It was the donations of his daughters and the money Medina’s sister sent from the Middle East that allowed the family to live comfortably.

“One thing I told her, through Hailu’s translation, is that my daughters were 15 when they sponsored you,” said Terrinoni. “So as you get older, it will be your turn to help somebody else,”

When Terrinoni returned to his room, he spoke to Alanna and Marissa for an hour and a half each, and told them about the day’s events and how proud of them he was.

“I couldn’t help but cry because I was just so proud of my kids,” he said. “To witness the impact of what my children have done for this family for 10 years is beyond what I could have ever imagined,”

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