Mohammed Al-Jumaili has always been like an eagle: focused, brave, constantly striving for great new heights.
Only now, it's official. At a ceremony over the weekend, the now Glenside resident became the first Iraqi refugee to earn the Boy Scouts highest rank of Eagle Scout.
But no number of merit badges can represent the breadth of life he's lived.
Ten years ago, while most of his American compatriots were mere Cub Scouts, Mohammed Al-Jumaili was learning what it means to grow up in a war zone.
"We hear the shotguns everyday, morning, night, 24/7," Mohammed said.
By the time he was 7, many of his slightly older peers had already been sucked into an al-Qaida-supported youth militia.
"I swear like I saw kids -- they can't be over 12 years old," he said, "holding guns and just shooting at people. They don't even know how to shoot, but they're just shooting at people like crazy."
By the time he was 12, he and his family were firmly on the American coalition's side of that line. So much so they agreed to let the U.S. Marine Corps use their Fallujah home and property as a command base.
But this, of course, put his family in al-Qaida's cross-hairs and eventually led to the horrific day that changed his life forever.
It was Jan. 13, 2006, a day Mohammed says he'll never forget.
He and seven of his cousins were playing outside the house.
"We saw a car, small car, the driver was very nervous, driving toward our house very fast," he said.
The Marines nearby noticed the erratic driver and stopped him, sending him away.
But 10 minutes later, the car came back, storming in from another direction. The driver drove straight at the children and blew the car up before they could flee.
"My cousin died immediately because of the explosion, and she had shrapnel in her head," he said. "It just cut off her head."
His cousin, Hajer, was just 6 years old. She took the brunt of the blast. But, to varying degrees, all the children were hurt.
Mohammed's mother, Jinan, was inside the house cooking when she heard the bang and the screaming that followed.
"I go running and I saw him and the blood and he say to me, 'I am OK, go to my cousin.' And I saw his cousin is also blood," she said in broken English.
"All my body like die, the first time, believe me, and I want to cry, but I cannot cry," she says.
Mohammed said he was OK; in reality, he was far from it.
"His leg is cut and the blood and he said, 'Mom, I'm OK.'"
But these were no mere cuts. Eventually, a doctor in Baghdad delivered the bad news: Mohammed's right leg would have to be removed. At that moment he could have cried, could have pitied himself, could have cursed his luck.
Instead, he showed the strength and resiliency that have come to define him.
"He said, 'Mom, I know what the doctor decide, I not care, and you not care Mom, this is from God for me,'" Jinan said.
"I said, 'My son is 12 years, he is strong,' but I the mom, I give him the strong, not he give me the strong, but believe me, he give me the strong," she said.
The amputation proceeded, but the surgery wasn't fully successful. Unable to walk on the new limb, Mohammed was confined to a wheelchair.
And it's here where Mohammed's story takes an almost unimaginable turn -- a stroke of magic in a world increasingly connected by global media.
A local videographer happened to film Mohammed's mother wheeling him into his bombed-out school on the way to take an exam. That footage ended up being aired by CNN.
Taken by the image, CNN followed up with Mohammed and his mother and produced a piece that caught the attention of a New York City-based nonprofit, the Global Medical Relief Fund.
Eventually, that group brought the pair to Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, where Mohammed received top-notch medical care. Before no time he was a natural on his new prosthetic.
Living in fear
But then it was back to Iraq for the the Al-Jumailis.
Years passed until CNN again followed up with the family. In the story that aired, Jinan voiced her pro-American sentiment.
She thinks al-Qaida must have seen it.
"I wake up in the morning, I saw envelope under the door, they said, 'Why you speak to the TV about American people like this? We will kill you and kill your son,'" Jinan recalls.
Fearing for their lives, by 2009, they were able to again escape to America. This time though, Mohammed and his mother swore that nothing would make them return to Iraq.
Mohammed saw the vast potential the U.S. had to offer and pushed himself to make the most of his new life.
With one leg and six pieces of shrapnel still in his body,he has become an athlete. His bedroom wall's now lined with athletic trophies for football, tennis, swimming and wrestling.
And, even though he runs on a blade, "I also run the 24 hour relay last year in our high school and I won the most miles," he says.
Yes, you read that right. He stayed awake for 24 hours and ran 75 miles on one leg.
And athletics are only the start of it. He's a devout Sunni Muslim who's a math whiz and Eagle Scout. He's a Red Cross volunteer who doubles in the National Guard. Service is so much a part of his life that he just took the test to become a volunteer firefighter in Glenside.
"I want to be one of the first responders if anything happen to my community," he said
If that's not enough, remember this, just three years ago, he could barely speak a lick of English.
"I never said. 'Oh, I have one leg, I should give up.' No, I don't think that way. I always think about the future," he said.
"I never look behind me, I always look forward. I always look for the thing that's coming up."
Now that he's reached Eagle Scout, 17-year-old Mohammed can relax a little bit. His college applications are in to Drexel and Lehigh. He's got a congratulatory letter from President Obama. He and his mother both have been granted asylum and have their green cards.
Within five years, they'll be fully naturalized American citizens.
As far as his career goes, Mohammed says he could go two ways -- mechanical engineer or U.S. senator.
Next step for Mohammed, though, is to finally ask the girl he likes to the prom.
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