- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

CHICAGO | If the response to death is an accurate measure of one’s life, Terry Barnich lived an incredibly successful 56 years.

Killed on Memorial Day in Iraq by an improvised explosive device, the State Department contractor left behind a Facebook page that is now a virtual memorial of reminiscences by more than 50 friends, relatives and colleagues.

“Terry, you were my life, I feel like my soul has been ripped out,” wrote Sheila Grace, 46, one of the first to post. “We had a beautiful life planned, my kids have come to love you, and that was no easy task on your part. I am at a total loss. Will miss you forever.”

She and Mr. Barnich had become engaged a week before his death.

The message board was sparked by longtime friend Phil O’Connor in an emotional, typo-filled note:

“Friends I am very sorry to convey this nesw in this manner but my best friend in the world, Terry Barnich, was killed today, Memorial Day, near Fallujah, Iraq carrying out his dudties with the US State Dept. and helping to better the lives of the people of Iraq. Many of you know him. Please pray for him, his Mom, brother and sister-in-law and all whose lives will have a terrible hole left by his loss. Phil”

Two others in the convoy were also killed by the IED after inspecting a water-treatment plant, part of Mr. Barnich’s job since January 2007 reconstructing vital infrastructure in Iraq.

The State Department contractor was weeks away from coming home in time to walk his sister down the aisle.

“They said he didn’t suffer and they never knew what hit them,” Genevieve Ketel, 77, Mr. Barnich’s mother, told The Washington Times. “I guess we’ll never know.”

The boy with good grades — but still a “clown,” his mother says, who made spitballs and loved sports — passed the Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Florida bar exams.

Active in state Republican Party politics, a man who idolized Abraham Lincoln and George Will, Mr. Barnich made the short list to challenge then Sen. Barack Obama’s 2006 re-election bid, then volunteered to try to make a success out of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

His sister, Rochelle, said he would have enlisted in the military if he were younger.

“I wanted him to come home. To stay home,” his mother said.

“He said, ‘No, I got to go and finish. I’ve got stuff I’ve got to do,’” she said, clutching a tissue to red puffy eyes from which only a mother could find more tears. “I said, ‘OK,’ not knowing he’d never come back.”

Acceptance turned to pride.

“He was amazing,” she said. “Of course, I was his mother.”

Service in Iraq

Hired by the State Department to work in an unpopular war zone, Mr. Barnich sought to affect the key grass-roots measure of Iraqi public sentiment: electricity. Every hour Iraqis don’t have electricity from the national power grid, resentment grows toward the government and occupying forces, sewage systems don’t work and air conditioners in 100-plus degree summers are useless.

Mr. Barnich was deputy director of the State Department’s Iraq Transition Assistance Office, serving as adviser to Iraq’s struggling Electricity Ministry.

“We’ve gotten a lot done,” he told a press conference in Baghdad a year ago, “but there is a lot more to do.”

Saddam Hussein manipulated the power grid, hoarding supplies for Baghdad, while the rest of the country suffered. Power projects have been increasing capacity, but demand has outpaced supply despite a nonstop effort to provide electricity for citizens, government offices, industry, schools and hospitals.

Mr. Barnich was the typical American do-gooder in Iraq, staying on beyond his nine-month contract.

He was back in his native Chicago in April on a two-week break.

A phone call from Iraqi and U.S. officials delayed for 20 minutes an interview at the office he maintained at New Paradigm Resources Group on the seventh floor of a building overlooking Chicago’s Millennium Park. There’s no real vacation, he joked.

American and Iraqi projects were now slowly juicing more of the grid. The government was signing contracts with international power companies.

“If all goes according to plan,” he said, Iraqis will see twice “more capacity this summer than they had last summer.”

Another call from Baghdad. He offered a “you understand how it is” apology. He was frustrated but hoped to achieve real progress before he returned home for good.

“I’m done in June,” he said as he walked this reporter to the elevator. “But keep that between us.”

‘On behalf of a grateful nation’

A Chicago police officer turned the corner, guiding a procession of straight-faced men past the USO, where future Iraq War veterans lingered and into the Chicago airport chapel where the family waited.

At the helm of the reception was the stoic matriarch, mouth and eyes quiet until she put her hand on the cherry wood box now holding her son.

“Mrs. Ketel, on behalf of a grateful nation …” began Harry Thomas, director general of the U.S. Foreign Service, who escorted the coffin from Washington, D.C.

Mr. Barnich’s two lives commingled during the ensuing visitation and funeral. Near the American, Illinois and Iraqi flags, Mrs. Ketel sat for hours, receiving guests and commemorative gifts:

• The Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service, signed by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

• A letter from the Iraqi Minister of Electricity, presented by his son, who said his father considered Mr. Barnich “like his brother.”

• The American flag that flew above the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad two days after Mr. Barnich was killed. It was presented by Karen Aguilar, Mr. Barnich’s boss, who was three vehicles ahead in the convoy that was nearing the base when the explosion occurred.

Relatives told stories about a young man who baby-sat to pay bills during law school and loved good wine, Italian food and pie.

Friends recalled the past chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, the chief counsel to former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson and campaign manager for Judy Baar-Topinka’s failed 2006 gubernatorial bid.

Colleagues came from Iraq, Britain and Washington, D.C.

Al Herman, who hired Mr. Barnich in Iraq, brought an e-mail condolence from Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and current head of Central Command.

“Tragically and ironically,” wrote Gen. Petraeus, “his loss came in the week that Iraq once again broke its electricity production record.”

On display at the memorial service was an Illinois senate resolution passed in Mr. Barnich’s memory, a photo with former Vice President Dick Cheney and a letter from Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill to Mrs. Ketel in which he said that Mr. Barnich “leaves a lasting legacy.”

Mr. Barnich’s death was “an enormous blow to the mission,” Mr. Hill told The Times. “He was very popular, very well liked.”

“It’s just amazing. We didn’t realize how many people that knew Terry,” said sister Rochelle, 51, who worked as an office manager in her brother’s consulting firm. “We didn’t realize Terry was such an important guy.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide