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A US soldier reunites with the Iraqi girl he saved

For US Army Capt. Tom Hickey and his platoon, saving Sadeel in 2007 was the best part of their tour in Iraq.

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At the reunion, as Hickey sits down over pizza with Sadeel and her family, his metal bracelet glints in the Baghdad sun. It's engraved with the initials of Moore, Verela, and four other soldiers from his platoon who were killed a few months after helping Sadeel.

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Moore and the entire crew of the Bradley he commanded, along with their Iraqi interpreter – almost all the soldiers who had helped save Sadeel – died instantly on May 19, 2007, when a bomb buried under the pavement ripped their vehicle apart. It was one of the single biggest losses of life in the US military surge that pitted American forces against Al Qaeda fighters and Shiite militants.

Hickey, who had injured his hand, was back at the base that day and wasn't with his unit.

In a battle zone where they regarded every Iraqi they met as a potential enemy, saving Sadeel was the best thing that happened to his men, says Hickey.

"Staff Sergeant Moore had three baby girls – 9 and below – and that guy was on cloud nine," says Hickey. "I said to him, 'Why are you so happy?' He said, 'You don't know, but you will,' because he had daughters. He was always talking about going home, being on the Texas State Highway Patrol and seeing his daughters and being with them."

Far from their families, visiting Sadeel and her brothers and sisters was some of the only normal interaction the soldiers had with Iraqis.

The story of the shooting has faded into family lore among her sister Dima, 13, and her brother Youssef, 16. Outside the restaurant, Sadeel, dressed in a red-and-white gingham dress with puffy sleeves, runs through the garden, chasing after a huge dog, happy and unafraid.

"That wasn't an easy time for my soldiers, but one of the things I can truly say is their favorite thing of being here was meeting you guys," Hickey tells them. "It was one of the few times they got to be around regular people without being nervous. They brought stuff for you guys but they were doing it because it made them feel really good – I don't know if you realize that."

Amariyah and much of Baghdad remains dangerous – so much so that Hickey, serving in what could be the last US military deployment in Iraq, leaves the Green Zone only on official missions and under heavy security. But the surge is credited with helping Iraqis outside the Green Zone's blast walls breathe more easily.

While the worst parts of Iraq's eight-year war are receding into history, it's young men like Hickey who keep that history alive. Perhaps the only equation for calculating the real cost of war is lives saved versus lives lost.

When I sat down with him four years ago after his men had been killed, I asked if he believed the war was worth the sacrifice.

"I think if you could ask Sergeant Moore what the price of that little girl's life was, I think he would take comfort in that, and I think it would make him proud of what he's done here," he said. "I seriously think if we pull out of Iraq or anything else like that, this place will turn into a very bad place to live and a lot of people will die, and I think we keep a lot of that from happening."

On a recent night at one of the last remaining US Army bases in Iraq, I asked Hickey how he would answer that question today.

"I think people find their own way to deal with grief and loss," he says, "and I know that the people we lost ... helped everyone else get home."

IN PICTURES: Troops come home

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