Iraqi youth is coming to Blaine jazz camp
Whatcom County residents are raising money to send kids in northwest military families who have an active duty parent overseas to July’s Blaine Jazz Festival.
The kid who will make the longest journey, however, is an Iraqi youth much like the one found by Julian Melo, an American soldier in Mosul, Iraq.
Like many military personnel, Sergeant Melo was deeply moved by what the war in Iraq has done to the children there and began trying to find ways to do something, but exactly what he wasn’t sure. Shortly before Christmas, while playing with some children outside his compound, Melo shared his headphones with some children and, as he later told his wife, their response was strong and positive.
“When I get out we’ve got to figure out a way to get musical instruments over here,” Melo told his wife, Norma, who works for the military as coordinator of teen activities in the Fort Lewis/McChord Air Force Base area. That was on Monday, December 20. The next day a bomb went off in the mess hall belonging to Melo’s Stryker Brigade, and the defense department issued the following announcement:
“The Department of Defense announced today the death of SSG Julian S. Melo, 47, of Brooklyn, NY, who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), and Fort Lewis, WA. SSG Melo died December 21 in Mosul, Iraq, when his dining facility was attacked.”
was one of 14 American soldiers to die in the
Melo, a native of Panama whose father served under General Noriega, moved to Brooklyn and became a U.S. citizen before enlisting in the Army in 1992. Known as passionately energetic and positive, he “always had a rule,” Norma Melo was quoted as saying, “that there was to be no sadness or crying around him, and he’d say that to the Iraqi kids he’d encounter.”
Norma Melo and their teenage son Joshua decided to dedicate a memorial fund named after Julian to providing musical instruments to a school in Mosul. Sandy Wolf, founder and coordinator of the Blaine Jazz Festival, said that the Melo fund already has over $10,000 in it, and that Norma has contacted her about paying the tuition for an Iraqi child to attend as well. Transportation from Iraq will be paid for by TAPS, an organization that supports military families who lose someone in the line of duty.
“I told her that wasn’t necessary, but she insisted,” Wolf said. Melo is also coordinating the drive to send military kids from the south sound area north to the festival along with Kathy Gardner and Mary Brooks, both of whom run on-base youth centers, something that provided the connection between military kids and the Blaine Jazz Festival.
Bruce and Sandy Wolf’s son-in-law Lance Scott is an army medical officer, a nurse anesthetist currently serving at Madigan Hospital. Sandy Wolf went down there recently for a visit and while there “began calling around to see if I could interest anyone in the jazz festival.” She connected with Gardner, who organized a meeting that Norma Melo attended.
“Scott’s headed to Iraq in the fall,” said Sandy Wolf, “so we talked about that, too, and what we can do in the face of so much suffering. Music sure helps.”
For more information on this summer’s Jazz Festival, go to www.pacificartsassoc.org.