SULAYMANIA, Iraq (Army News Service, Oct. 7, 2010) -- Nine members of the Gold Star Mothers organization traveled to the Sulaymania Arts Center, Sept. 26 for a three-day conference and a chance to see the outcome of a war that claimed their children's lives and what their loved ones were fighting for.

The conference began with speeches from the first lady of Iraq, Hero Talabani, the Iraqi Martyrs Office, and Brig. Gen. Tom Vandal, the Task Force Marne deputy commanding general for support.

"It's an honor to participate in today's events to recognize the sacrifices made by the Gold Star Mothers and to thank them for the sacrifices of their loved ones," said Vandal. "As revered members of our military community, your love and devotion to the Families of the armed services gives all of us strength and confidence knowing that you stand with us honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice."

Among those attending the conference were Iraqi women who had lost loved ones in the line of duty while working to make their country a better place.

"Regardless of differences in culture, we can all agree on the importance of family and the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves," Vandal said. "It is obvious as we see the fruits of their sacrifices, that Iraq is on its way towards improved security and economic development. Those men and women that died for a noble cause in Iraq, would be proud of what we see today in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Sulaymania."

Talabani also spoke of her gratitude for U.S. and Iraqi forces working together to change the lives of her people.

"Your sons came and liberated Iraq," she said to the U.S. mothers.

Talabani said that America's Soldiers had a positive impact on Iraq that would not be forgotten.

"They managed to take down dictators of destruction, we are honored to meet you here today, and we will never forget what your kids, your sons and your daughters did for us," she said. "Terrorists could never stop the progress of our nation and with the help of the U.S. we've rid Iraq of Saddam forever."

A documentary film was played to show the Gold Star Mothers what their sons and daughters had liberated the Iraqi people from. It was an emotional event, where mothers connected with each other regardless of which country they were from.

"We stand for families united for universal respect, we are sowing the seeds of friendship and we feel as though we have much in common," said Joan Betros on behalf of the Gold Star Mothers. Betros is the co-founder of FUTURE and helped to organize the conference.

The Gold Star Mothers also met with Iraqi Martyrs to share their stories of pride and loss. Emily Shields of Columbia, S.C., spoke highly of her son 1st Lt. Andrew C. Shields, who was killed in an Apache helicopter accident near the city of Mosul, Iraq, in 2004.

"My child did what he could to help the people of this country and now I feel like I have the chance to do the same by coming here and connecting with others who have been through what I have," Shields said. "We've been treated very nicely and welcomed so kindly by the Iraqi Martyrs and everyone else involved in this event."

Hugs were a big gesture and given out in abundance at the conference as part of the program "Hugs for Healing."

"We don't get a chance to hug the uniform very much anymore now that our children are gone, so it's nice not only to be over here, but to see Soldiers again," said Shields, who embraced Capt. Susan Downing, Command Post Aca,!" North Engagements officer.

The bond between the Iraqi Martyrs and Gold Star Mothers was evident and the opportunity to meet each other was appreciated on both sides. Along with camaraderie, the Gold Star Mothers brought humanitarian aid supplies such as baby blankets and bottles with them for those who were in need.

(Spc. Jennifer L. Montagna writes for the 135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 3rd Infantry Division)