Thinking, perhaps a bit naively, that they might talk about the
problem of civilian casualties, she decided to go. After the
hearing was over and disappointed that the issue she cared so
deeply about had not been mentioned, Marla walked straight up to
Secretary Rumsfeld, and from the witness table, down the hallway
and outside to his car, she did not stop talking to him about the
families of civilians she had met who had been killed or injured
and the need to do something to help them.
As anyone who knew Marla discovered, she was not someone who it
was easy to say no to. In fact it was almost impossible, and that
was not simply because she was insistent. It was because she had
been there, she knew what war was about, she had seen the tragic
results, and she was not about blaming anyone. She was about
helping, in whatever ways she could.
Marla saw her work as part of the best of what
this country is about. It was the face of a compassionate America
that she believed in, and that she wanted the people of
Afghanistan and Iraq to see.
It took time to realize that Marla wasnt just a blond, bundle of
energy and charisma she was in fact a person of great intellect
and courage who realized that if she wanted to help war victims it
wasnt enough to protest. She needed to work with people who could
help her do it.
And that meant the Congress, the U.S. military,
the U.S. Embassy, and the press. She quickly understood that, and
she made the choice to put politics aside and focus on the
It did not take long before the U.S. military saw the importance
of what she was doing, and started to help her. There were several
Civil Affairs officers with whom Marla worked like a team, she
finding the cases, and they arranging for the plane to airlift a
wounded child to a hospital, or some other type of assistance.
Marla became one of our most beloved Ambassadors.
I think one of the reasons so many people around the world feel
Marla's loss so deeply is because we saw how important her work
was and that it meant taking risks that the rest of us are
unwilling to take. In a way she was not only helping the families
of Iraqi war victims, she was also helping us.
Until she finally became an innocent victim of war herself.
Marla has been called many things. An angel of mercy. A ray of
sunshine in an often dangerous and dark world. One person who knew
her well described Marla as being as close to a living saint as
they come, and I suspect thats how many of us feel.
Speaking for myself, I have never met, nor do I ever expect to
meet again, someone so young who gave so much of herself to so
many people, and who made such a difference doing it.
Our hearts go out to her parents, Cliff and Nancy Ruzicka, who had
the courage to let Marla be the person she wanted to be. Not that
there would have been any stopping her.
Our job now is to carry on the work that Marla started, because it
is so important. That is what I am committed to, and I look
forward to working with my friend from California to honor Marla
in that way.