On Her Graduation Day, This Iraqi Teen Met The U.S. Soldier Who Saved Her Life 18 Years Ago

I need about 12 boxes of tissues, please.

Imagine it's your graduation day. You're filled with emotions: both happy and bittersweet, excited and confused, anxious and hopeful. Now imagine, among all those feelings on that day, you meet the brave soldier who saved your life 18 years ago.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but for Mill Creek High School graduate Lava Barwari, it's her real-life happy ending.


When Lava was just a baby, her mom, Awaz, was put on a "kill list" while they were living in Iraq.

"In 1996, Saddam [Hussein] had this law that anybody who worked with Americans, befriended Americans, had anything to do with Americans, they'd be considered a spy and needed to be beheaded,” Awaz told a local affiliate.

At the time, U.S. Army soldier Greg Pepin was helping Americans on the kill list escape to freedom, but there were strict restrictions as to who he could save. When he tried to get Awaz and Lava out of the country, he stumbled into a major problem: Iraqi officials wouldn't let Lava leave, since she was just a baby and therefore not technically on the kill list. It was Greg's quick and creative thinking that saved the day. Awaz explained that Greg told the Iraqi officials that Lava's name was Greg Pepin, since they'd let the baby leave if she was part of his family.

It worked. After a brief email correspondence, Lava and Greg were able to reunite just hours before her graduation ceremony -- 18 years later. From chaos, a fairy-tale ending -- and the ultimate graduation surprise. "It made my day. It made my year," she said.