Slain Red Cross worker helped Iraqis make it through
'He would always go the extra step'
By Jeordan Legon
(CNN) -- After a long day at the office moving boxes and securing the arrival of humanitarian supplies, Red Cross logistics coordinator Vatche Arslanian had just one more thing to do. Give a ride home to an employee who lived on the other side of Baghdad.
It was a final act of kindness for the husky Canadian with the hearty laugh who dedicated much of his life to helping people in need.
Arslanian, 48, died April 8 when his car was caught in the crossfire between coalition and Iraqi troops. His employee was shot, but was able to run away. A day later, when the battle ended, Arslanian's body was recovered, still clothed in his white Canadian Red Cross T-shirt, officials said.
"He would always go the extra step," Suzanne Charest, a Canadian Red Cross colleague who often spoke to Arslanian by phone.
"He really prided himself on the work of the Red Cross and he knew it was making a difference in a really horrific war. If he hadn't been there ... thousands of Iraqis would not have had access to water or medical supplies."
Arslanian, who had been in Baghdad since July 2001, was given the option of leaving the city at the start of the war. He stayed.
Too much needed to be done. His staff of 40 Red Cross workers depended on him. He had 65 vehicles, 55 generators and five warehouses to oversee.
In the first weeks of the war, his knowledge of Arabic and perseverance ensured food, water and medical supplies continued reaching war-weary Iraqis, Charest said.
"The work is rewarding, because helping to bring a smile and dignity to a fellow human being is deeply fulfilling," Arslanian told a Red Cross colleague who interviewed him shortly before his death.
Arslanian, who was born in Syria and moved to Canada in 1975, loved to help others, colleagues said. He worked as a taxi driver, dishwasher, security guard and hotel banquet organizer, but no matter what he did, he always found time to volunteer.
He served as deputy mayor of his Canadian hometown of Oromocto, New Brunswick, and began volunteering with the Red Cross in 1991.
Whether it was moving refugees from Kosovo to Canada or helping feed the hungry in the Republic of Georgia, he enjoyed opening the way for humanitarian relief to arrive.
His co-workers say the quiet, detail-oriented man was unstoppable -- keeping a toy bulldozer on his desk as a reminder of his mission.
"He really was a bulldozer," Charest said. "He made things happen."
Note: In every war there are acts of extraordinary courage where an individual, military or civilian, goes beyond what is expected to avert conflict, save lives or otherwise achieve an extraordinary mission. This special section highlights the acts of a few individuals who -- through feats of courage, nobility of purpose or life-risking situations -- have become "Heroes of War."