Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt and his wife, Mindy, share a quiet moment with their dog, Cole, at their home in Wichita, Kan. The chief is the superintendent of 22nd Wing Medical Group at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. He has recently gained worldwide attention for a photo of him comforting an Iraqi child. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee)
Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt cradles a young Iraqi girl as they both sleep in the hospital. The girl's entire family was executed by insurgents. The killers shot her in the head but she survived. The girl received treatment at the U.S. military hospital in Balad, but cries often. According to nurses at the facility, Chief Gebhardt is the only one who can calm down the girl, so he holds her at night while they both sleep in a chair. Chief Gebhardt was assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (Courtesy Photo)
11/10/2006 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. (AFPN) -- All of the attention embarrasses him, but as this chief master sergeant learned recently, a lifetime of caring and good deeds is bound to catch up with you eventually.
Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt, superintendent of the 22nd Wing Medical Group here, recently gained worldwide attention for a photo of him holding an injured Iraqi child. The photo was taken about a month ago, while he was deployed to Balad Air Base in Iraq.
The young infant had received extensive gunshot injuries to her head when insurgents attacked her family killing both of her parents and many of her siblings. The chief had a knack for comforting her and they often would catch a cat nap together in a chair.
Now, he is back at home in Wichita, Kan., with his wife, Mindy. They have a warm, hospitable home five minutes away from McConnell Air Force Base. His son Ryan, 25, and daughter Amber, 23, have long since outgrown being cradled and he said he thought about them constantly while he held the Iraqi child.
"I got as much enjoyment out of it as the baby did," he said. "I reflected on my own family and life and thought about how lucky I have been."
His affection for children is no secret to his wife, Mindy. While dating John in high school, she watched how he bonded with the child of a coach of one of his athletic teams. That softer side of him is one of the reasons she married him.
"People see him as this tough guy," she said, "but I always see that other side of him that is full of compassion."
The chief, who grew up in Jordan, New York, is not at home in the spotlight. When asked to talk about himself, he always tries to switch the focus to the other military people who served with him at Balad.
While deployed to Iraq, the chief tried to help out any way he could. He figured holding a baby that needed comforting that would free up one more set of arms that could be providing care to more critical patients.
"If I have an opportunity to help out, I look for that opportunity," he said. "They had more than enough to do."
The chief was not alone in volunteering at the hospital. There were more than 800 different volunteers at the hospital during the time he was deployed to Iraq, he said. Some of them volunteered so much that he mistakenly thought they were assigned to the hospital.
When Mindy describes the best qualities of her husband, the first word out of her mouth is integrity. She said the photo of her husband and the Iraqi child truly represents him. She believes he has been so successful because he is such a straight-shooter and puts others' welfare ahead of his own.
"He never leads anyone astray," she said. "He will never do something for himself that would have a negative effect on someone else. He always tells it like it is."
But, the chief attributes his success to his family.
"Without their support I don't know where I would be," he said. "I definitely wouldn't be in the position I am."
And it is the chief's hope that families in Iraq will receive the same kind of support in the future. They are just like American families, Chief Gebhardt said.
"I pray for the best for the Iraqi children," he said. "I can't tell the difference between their kids and our kids. The Iraqi parents have the same care and compassion for their children as any American."
Life is calmer for Chief Gebhardt now that he is back home, and even though his recent "fame" has highlighted an eventful 27-year career, he said he wouldn't change a thing.
"If I had to do it over again, I would sign up and give it another ride," he said.
4/11/2013 4:15:49 PM ET A friend posted this photo on Facebook today it moved me so much I had to look up the details which led me to this page. People like John Gebhardt make the world go around. I hope he lives a long and prosperous life and I wish the same to the little girl wherever she may be...
Jack B, Seattle WA
1/29/2012 7:53:54 AM ET His compassion is an excellent thing. When I was deployed to Balad I looked into adoption of Iraqi children and was sadly told that they - the Iraqi Govt. would not allow for international adoptions. This is heart breaking as many children have been made orphans by the war. Hopefully this will change as the outlook for those children in need.
M. Duke Clements, Annapolis MD
1/20/2012 3:53:58 PM ET I came across this photo amd article and it made me cry and smile and be proud to be a American GOD BLESS you and your family. This is truly a selfless act of kindness. I hope the little girl has a better life now. What happend to her? If I could I would addopt all of these children to save them from a terrible life.
Jessica, Wasilla Alaska
10/14/2011 10:33:27 AM ET This made me have tears in my eyes to see that soldiers are really caring and not all about fighting You are an exceptional guy and you have given me hope as my son is a soldier away just now keep up the good work Sir xx
Mrs Sharon Robertson, Scotland
9/10/2011 8:11:38 AM ET just want to thank you for what you have done for this little girl and what you continue to do for others I am sure....I pray that we will have more Johnsin our world.......I continue to pray for you and your family......THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart
6/16/2011 12:07:01 PM ET Very moving. But what happened to the child?
Paul, London GB
6/15/2011 6:08:51 PM ET Thank you Chief for showing the world the other side of American soldiers. All I hear about is how we remotely bomb villages and destroy lives, shoot innocent civilians and torture terrorists. I didn't think it possible but you make me feel even more proud to be an American.
Pam, Perth Australia
6/15/2011 2:47:37 PM ET To second Charla's comment... It's still circulating... just saw someone post it on my Facebook news feed today.
Adam, Wichita KS
6/15/2011 8:04:33 AM ET This is an awesome example of our finest serving over seas.I think she has chosen her new foster dad and I think she chose wisely.
Nathan Hart, Ottawa Illinois
6/13/2011 2:48:22 AM ET This is one great picture. It's a true reflection that even our military men and women are family people who have feelings, and they are out there purely on a mission. Thank you for being you.
Mary Rukenya, Nairobi Kenya
4/29/2010 7:45:32 AM ET 4 years later your photo and your story are still circulating on Facebook. You are a true Hero. God Bless you and your family!
Charla, Ft. Knox Kentucky
2/3/2010 4:56:12 PM ET Real heroes don't demand the spotlight the spotlight demands them. Thanks Chief for allowing your story of compassion to be told.
Doug Matkins, Livermore CA
1/27/2010 2:39:20 AM ET Four years on this photo is still touching people's hearts... in places all over the globe ..to see what is right and to do it is the most courageous act of all
Brenda S, South Africa
1/25/2010 12:19:16 PM ET First of all God bless you ChiefI'm an AF brat who's father served in Korea. He actively taught English to the natives on his spare time with just as much compassion as Chief Gebhardt. There are many more such unknown heroes than anyone believes. Thanks to all of them for serving America and the cause of freedom in such an honorable way
1/12/2010 7:24:03 PM ET If I could shake Chief Gebhardt's hand I would give him a freaking hug! HE is my hero. 'NUFF SAID
Carlos Phelan, Lawrenceville GA
1/11/2010 2:24:19 PM ET God bless Chief Gebhardt and the US military. I have a deep appreciation for both our Canadian and US military presence in imes of war.
Eileen , Calgary AB Canada
12/23/2009 2:17:01 PM ET This is a picture of a True Hero. John Gebhardt U.S. Air Force should have won the Nobel Peace Prize this year Now he has really made a difference for our country that precious little girl and her country.... However because of liberal politics people like him WILL NEVER WIN
12/18/2009 9:20:08 AM ET This article made me smile and cry. May God bless this sweet child and so many more like her, and may God bless and protect our wonderful military. Thank you John for showing the love and compansion that has no boundaries.
12/16/2009 10:41:19 PM ET I cried when I saw this picture and almost got physically sick with grief for this little girl and her circumstances. Thank God for this gentle man and true hero. Does anyone know what happened to this little girl?
Charis Lewis, North Carolina
12/3/2009 9:53:47 PM ET Thank you John for your compassion for this precious little girl. It's children like her that someday will grow up and possibly change her country's attitude toward the world and other people.
Merle Rouillard, Liberty Hill Texas
12/2/2009 10:16:53 PM ET I came across this photo and started to cry. Thank you for your service and compassion.
Angela, Casper WY
11/20/2009 5:54:17 PM ET Thank you Chief Gebhardt for showing that our military has compassion. My father and 5 brothers have all been in the military so that makes me a military brat and proud of it.
Peggy, League City Texas
11/19/2009 6:09:26 PM ET Thank you for your service and for being an example of what makes our country the greatest in the world.
Troy Hansen, St. Louis MO
11/14/2009 9:51:25 AM ET You are one shining example of why we are proud to have served! John, CWO-4 USN Ret.
john Dooley, Virginia Beach
11/5/2009 10:26:26 PM ET Thank you for all you do and for spreading the word that we are all connected no matter where we live.
Denise Tetrault, MA
11/5/2009 3:44:13 PM ET I am against the occupation of Iraq but this is wondeful expression of humanity. What a wonderful picture illuminating human kindness and compassion in the darkest of situations This picture made me cry - as a mother myself if it was my child and I were deceased I'd be at peace knowing a kindhearted soldier like this was there to care my little one left behind. God bless Chief Gebhardt his family and those compassionate soldiers who carry on difficult work in a making difficult situation better.
Sandra, Sausalito CA
11/4/2009 11:57:45 PM ET God bless you Chief
Charles C. Pfeifer TSgt Ret, Atkins AR
11/4/2009 11:27:47 AM ET WOW thank you so much. I wish everyone had the same kind of compassion and love you have shown. You are one in a million. If only I could get my kid's father to shown an ounce of compassion you have. May God Bless you and your entire family.
10/20/2009 10:10:40 AM ET It is not right to hide the atrocities of war with fluffy photos. Nor is it appropriate to bias commentary toward death and destruction - though that is the fundamental reality of war. I think the photo of Master Sgt Gebhardt holding the small child is one of those rare shots that not only shows the horror of war but also the compassion and connection all humans are capable of. It is a contradiction in itself while being a lesson for all of us. Thank you to Master Sgt Gebhardt and to the photographer for having the insight to capture the moment to gracefully.
7/29/2009 11:45:45 AM ET Thank you for all you've done and all you do. What a beautiful heartwarming story. I've seen it before and often wonder what happened to that particular child as I continue to pray all of them.
Sunshinegmf, Silver Spring MD
7/20/2009 7:21:47 PM ET god bless you
6/10/2009 9:39:15 PM ET Absolutly the most heartwarming photo I have seen concerning the war in Iraq. I had the opportunity to met Chief Gebhardt where I am employed for a moment and in that moment I could feel his goodness. Thank you Chief for the medelion. I will proudly share it and your story with everyone I know. Thanks to you and all our heros over there.