Barbara C. Heald
Captain, United States Air Force
United States Department of Defense
A rocket killed two and injured five January 29, 2005, when it hit the U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad on the eve of the Iraqi election. The projectile crashed through the roof of a portion of the building housing the reconstruction Project and Contracting Office.
The 120 mm round came smashing through the ceiling of a ballroom in the former Republican Palace about 8 p.m. on January 29. The room has been temporarily converted into a warren of work spaces for the contracting operation. The missile then crashed through the floor about 18 ft below. There is debate about whether it exploded, says Charlie Hess, the PCO director. An investigation is under way.
"From what we know it was the impact, not an explosion that killed them," says Hess, "It could have been much deadlier—if you are one of the folks who think it didn't explode. There are always could-have-beens," he added.
Killed were Navy Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor, 47, of Irvine, California, and Barbara C. Heald, 60, of Falls Church, Virginia. Heald was a Dept. of Defense civilian employee.
"They were great people," says Hess. "Very, very dedicated, valuable assets to our operation. Barbara, this was her third tour over here. She came over in the very early days. Keith was a fairly newcomer, but was also very dedicated and an important component of our First Response Team," he says.
The First Response Network is a secure, national communications network for emergency first responders that is being developed under the reconstruction program by Lucent Technologies, Hess explained. Taylor, who had been in Iraq since October 6, 2004, was the PCO's chief contracting officer for transportation and communications. He also dealt with contracts for water-treatment plants and schools. Hess says Taylor and the rest of the First Response Network team had just finished celebrating the launch of the network's first citywide coverage area, which blankets Baghdad with communications from 28 transmission towers. Fifteen other cities will be included in the system by August, which will have a national dispatch center operated by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.
Taylor had five weeks left on a six-month deployment. A wife and three young daughters survive him. Funeral arrangements are private, according to a U.S. Navy spokeswoman.
Heald, who leaves behind three grown stepchildren, was a contract negotiator, working predominately in the oil sector, Hess says.
Her brother, John Heald, described his sister "a wonderful, vibrant, delightful, irrepressibly positive woman," and adds that she was also a "ferocious knitter"—to the point of posing for a photo in Baghdad with a knitting magazine in hopes of getting the picture published for its "unusual setting. He says Heald's co-workers will hold a memorial service in the 9/11 Chapel at the Pentagon on February 3. Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery.
Heald's sister, Margaret Geis, of Yuma, Arizona says Heald was devoted to the reconstruction effort and stayed with it because "she wanted to be a part of history."
A close friend, Gabriele Mecca, also of Falls Church says before leaving for her third tour in Baghdad, Heald told her 'It is very dangerous, but I am not minding the danger. I really, really believe in what we are doing,' Mecca recalled. "She really felt very dedicated to the job. She was such a professional," Mecca says.
The army reports seven suspects were captured after the attack. "Apparently they were able to do a back-trace on the trajectory of the missile," Hess says. "I presume they used night vision equipment to identify people leaving the site and they followed them and captured them."
Barbara C. Heald qualified twice over for the interment ceremony she received at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday.
Heald, 60, had served as a Captain in the Air Force in the 1970s, and her husband, ho died in 1996, served in the Army and was interred there. But for her family, the longtime Falls Church area resident deserved a place at the nation's sacred military cemetery for a third reason as well: After retiring from a career in government service, she volunteered to go to Iraq to help in the country's rebuilding, not once, but three times.
A civilian who worked for the Army's Project and Contracting Office, Heald was killed January 29, 2005, on the eve of the Iraqi national elections, when a mortar round crashed through the roof of the Republican National Palace in Baghdad's Green Zone. Also killed in the attack was Navy Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor, 47, of Irvine, California. The two were reportedly at their desks in makeshift offices in the ballroom of the palace, which serves as the U.S. Embassy.
Heald's plaque at Arlington will bear the abbreviations KIA OIF -- killed in action, Operation Iraqi Freedom -- a rare distinction for a civilian.
"We believe she deserved that, given how she died," said Margaret Geis, Heald's sister. "She was one of the good guys. She was trying to rebuild."
Heald was honored by the Air Force yesterday, with a line of airmen in their deep blue uniforms winding along the cemetery's paths ahead of the caisson bearing her remains. She worked for the Army in Iraq, however, and she was embraced by that service as well. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey attended the ceremony under a slate gray sky and within sight of the Pentagon.
"People should know how and why our sister
fell in the nation's service," said her brother John Geis, who said she
has been honored as well as any fallen soldier.
Heald decided to come out of retirement when she realized that her skills could be useful in Iraq, Mecca said. She arrived for her first tour in 2003 and had just returned to Iraq from a break in early January.
"I think she's an inspiration to people who are older, who have retired, but who still have so much to give in terms of knowledge and wisdom and education," Mecca said.
Heald's sister said she believed deeply in her mission in Iraq and became close to civilians there. One Iraqi translator invited Heald to have dinner at his Baghdad home. Later, she spent a week with his family in Jordan after he left the country to escape death threats.
"For her to be invited to stay in their home for that much time, there was so much mutual respect there," said Geis, who lives in Yuma, Arizona.
Heald also became close to her American co-workers. In lieu of flowers, her family asked friends to donate to a scholarship fund set up for Taylor's children. Heald is survived by three grown stepchildren and three siblings.
In Iraq, Heald maintained her good humor even as she worked long days and weeks, her sister said. Geis said Heald was never the strongest swimmer, but she e-mailed a picture of herself performing her first-ever dive from a high board -- into Saddam Hussein's swimming pool.
An avid knitter, Heald also sent a photo of herself in front of a famous statue in Baghdad, clad in floppy desert hat and a thick bulletproof vest and holding up a copy of Knitter's Magazine.
Her love of the craft was so profound that her sister said the family decided to inter a ball of yarn and knitting needles along with her ashes.
"That way," Geis said, "she'll have something to do."
HEALD, BARBARA C
Posted: 5 February 2005 Updated: 2 April 2005 Updated: 13 November 2005