WASHINGTON – Two women who voted in recent elections in Iraq and Afghanistan and the parents of an American soldier killed in recent fighting were Laura Bush's (search) special guests in her VIP box at President Bush's State of the Union address Wednesday.
Safia Taleb al-Suhail of Iraq and Homira G. Nassery of Afghanistan flanked Mrs. Bush.
Directly behind the first lady sat Janet and William Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, whose son, Sgt. Byron Norwood (search), was killed Nov. 13, 2004, by sniper fire during an assault on Fallujah.
They received a standing ovation when introduced, prompting an emotional moment as Mrs. Norwood and al-Suhail embraced. After her son's death, Mrs. Norwood wrote to the president in support of his policies in Iraq.
Al-Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women's Political Council (search), became politically active after her father was assassinated in 1996 in Beirut by Saddam Hussein's secret service. She is married to Bakhtiar Amin, a Kurdish political activist and founder of the Iraqi Democracy Institute in the United States. He is now Iraqi minister of human rights.
Nassery voted in Afghanistan's historic presidential election last October. She wants to set up a venture capital firm for women in her native Afghanistan, according to the White House.
She runs a program that trains female civil servants and teaches leadership development at the University of Kabul School of Law and Political Science. Previously she worked as a public health specialist for The World Bank in Rwanda, Eritrea, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
The other VIP guests were:
— Three people supporting the president's call for private accounts in Social Security: Robert McFadden of Medford, N.J., Sandra Jaques of West Des Moines, Iowa, and Robert Wright of Millard County, Utah.
— Two people who participated in relief efforts to help victims of the December tsunami in the Indian Ocean: Don Cressman, a pilot with Air Serve International of Amissville, Va., who has been in the region coordinating helicopter deliveries of supplies, and Linda Goble of Livermore, Colo., who donated money.
— Representives of each military service branch: Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roberto Atha of Miami, who flew missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, including an April 2003 rescue of an American POW and the remains of 11 dead U.S. service members; Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Manuel Martinez of Brooklyn, N.Y., a recipient of multiple medals who fought in Afghanistan; Army Staff Sgt. Norbert Lara of Copperas Cove, Texas, a military policeman who lost his right arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack; Air Force Master Sgt. Karlette Melendez of West Pittston, Pa., a coordinator of logistical and operational support for senior military and civilian officials; Coast Guard Damage Controlman Second Class Gerald J. Fox IV of Laurinburg, N.C., who rescued wounded soldiers injured after an explosion on a neighboring vessel.
— Two school officials to call attention to the landmark No Child Left Behind Act that is the centerpiece of Bush's education agenda: Susan Yturralde, principal of the Desert View Elementary School in Santa Theresa, N.M., and Lorna Clark, a kindergarten teacher at the school, which went from being a low-performing school to a model for its district.
— A representative of the faith-based community, which Bush wants to give more access to federal social services dollars: Sister Constancia Parcasio, the program director for Prison Ministry in Fairfax, Va.
— Two people chosen to highlight what Bush says is the need for capping awards in medical malpractice lawsuits: Dr. Karen Liebert of Bradenton, Fla., an OB/GYN who stopped delivering babies last year because of rising insurance premiums, and Julianne Ferguson of Bradenton, a patient of Liebert's who is expecting her second child.
— Tom Martin, the owner of a small business in Rutland, Vt., that was driven into bankruptcy by asbestos litigation, which Bush supports curbing.
— Nancy Connolly, president and CEO of Lasertone Corp. in Littleton, Mass., the largest woman-owned supplier of network printer solutions.
— Two guests to highlight signature issues of Mrs. Bush: Lillian Spark, executive director of the National Indian Education Association, chosen for her work educating women about the dangers of heart disease, and Will Dunn, an outreach worker and receptionist at the Ella J. Baker House in Dorchester, Mass., who helps mentor neighborhood children and reduce gang participation.
— District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams.
— Doro Koch, the president's sister.
— Bush's chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill, Candida Wolff.