By Sgt. Mike Pryor
2nd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Public Affairs
BAGHDAD – As a sergeant major with years of experience in the Army, Sgt. Maj. Manuel Daponte is used to people being a little intimidated when they approach him. But Mutada Ali, 4, son of Iraqi national police commander Brig. Gen. Ali Ibrahim Daboun, isn’t intimidated by much.
“I was sitting in the general’s office when Mutada came in. He came right up to me and climbed into my lap,” Daponte recalled. “That was the beginning of the friendship.”
Since that day, Mutada and Daponte, of Westport, Mass., the senior enlisted U.S. advisor to the 8th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi National Police Division, have been pretty much inseparable. As the senior non-commissioned officer in charge of four 11-man U.S. training teams responsible for advising more than 2,700 Iraqi Army and police personnel, Daponte works closely with Gen Ali, who commands the 8th Brigade of the 2nd Iraqi National Police Division.
Wherever Gen. Ali goes, so does Mutada.
“He’s always stuck with me. He doesn’t want to stay home,” the general explained with a laugh.
When Ali heads out to watch his forces train or conduct operations, Daponte acts as Mutada’s battle buddy, watching out for him and keeping him out of trouble.
Mutada even accompanied his father during recent clearing operations in the notorious militia stronghold of Sadr City. Daponte was right beside him for much of the time, helping the boy collect U.S. unit patches from Soldiers and making sure he picked up his candy bar wrappers.
It’s an odd sight to see an American sergeant major “babysitting” a mischievous Iraqi boy in the middle of a war zone, but Daponte said the time he spends with Mutada reminds him of what he is fighting for.
“I love kids,” he said. “I have two daughters of my own, and to have someone like this come along and remind us that the world is a simpler place outside of war, is a great thing.”