BY G. PATRICK PAWLING
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GREGORY COWLEY
Once a child soldier in Lebanon,
Haitham E. Ballout rebuilt his life in the U.S.
Now he helps others do the same
In 1976, Haitham E. Ballout, barely a teenager, carried a
Kalashnikov assault rifle into the hills of Lebanon. As a
soldier defending his town, he witnessed many things no
child should have to see.
Now, at age 49, there is a smile in Ballout’s eyes, optimism in
his voice and a calmness in his demeanor. These are the rewards
of perspective. For Ballout, life is a gift to be unwrapped daily. He
has a family, including his wife and their four children; a house on
the peninsula south of San Francisco; a mountain bike on which
he loves to explore the natural beauty of his surroundings; and a
thriving law practice focused on a hot issue: immigration.
He doesn’t talk much about his time as a child soldier. He is
neither ashamed nor proud; as the family’s oldest son still living in
the country, it was something he felt compelled to do.
“They said, ‘Here is your rifle and your ammunition,’ and off I
went,” he says.
He would go to the front for two weeks, come home for a few
days, then go back again to try to stop the outside forces, who were
advancing with tanks.
“We were doing whatever we could to stop them,” says Ballout.
“Firefights, seeing the horror of war, smelling the burned dead
bodies and having friends die next to me—it was not good.”