When Macon farmer Tommy Hamill relates the story of how he was kidnapped in Iraq and held in captivity for 24 days before escaping, inevitably a few cynics surface that believe the whole episode never happened.
“They’ve said it was a staged event, and I’m sitting here looking at this injury to my arm, and I’m thinking, oh, yeah, that’s staged,” said Hamill, shaking his head. “But that’s what upsets me so much about how some people in our country think. I’ve been to Iraq, and I see what’s going on over there, and I tell everybody that it’s something that should have already taken place.”
Hamill is the featured luncheon speaker at the Mississippi Economic Council’s (MEC) 56th-annual meeting May 4 at the Jackson Marriott Downtown, where more than 1,000 business leaders from around the state are expected to attend, with many of them bringing uniformed military guests. The event will be broadcast to overseas troops.
“This year, the meeting has a special importance as we pause to salute our troops — those who have served and those who are serving — overseas and in other far away places in support of these efforts, both in America and abroad,” said MEC president Blake Wilson.
More than 4,000 Mississippi members of the U.S. Army Reserve and the Mississippi National Guard are serving in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, and some 8,000 Mississippians have served tours of duty in the region, said Wilson.
The impact of military installations in Mississippi will highlight MEC’s morning session, beginning at 9 a.m., followed by an update of the Momentum Mississippi economic development initiative. The University of Southern Mississippi wind ensemble will provide music, and Miss Mississippi Jalin Wood will make an appearance.
“Two years ago, Macon’s Tommy Hamill went abroad to support his country’s fight for Iraqi freedom and to earn enough money to save his farm,” said Wilson. “One year ago, Hamill, a civilian truck convoy commander who was wounded in an ambush that killed five of his associates hauling fuel to the U.S. armed forces in Iraq, made international headlines by escaping his captors after being held hostage. We are excited that he will share with us his thrilling story, that is also told in his book, Escape in Iraq.”
Hamill, who is on medical leave from KBR, formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root, and a subsidiary of Halliburton Company, was ill prepared for the limelight. After a lifetime working behind the scenes, he was unexpectedly thrust into a frenzy of television appearances, radio interviews and speaking engagements around the country.
“I’m just an ordinary country boy,” he said. “I work a hard job. I haven’t expected anything other than what I’ve earned for myself. I wasn’t trained in the military to handle that type of situation in Iraq and I certainly wasn’t trained for talking to the public. I’m not the most eloquent speaker, but what I do say comes from the heart. Nothing’s ever scripted.”
Hamill often mentions in his talks that life-altering experiences prepares folks for later challenges.
“When you’re speaking from your heart, it makes you weak when you get through,” he said. “I really dig down deep when I talk about my experience and the bad things I’ve gone through in my life that helped turn me around and strengthen me. Most people wonder why bad things happen, and they don’t realize it’s to give them strength for later on.”
Early in his life, Hamill was devastated when his grandfather was left paralyzed and speechless after suffering a severe stroke and heart attack.
“He was taken out of the scene from me when I was young,” he said. “He was my best friend. He took me hunting and fishing everywhere I went. But I firmly believe all things happen for a reason. I’ve been through life and death situations before. I should’ve been killed years ago at home, but I wasn’t. When I was in captivity, I realized there was nothing I could do to change the outcome. All I could do was pray that it was God’s will that I survive and come home one day.”
Hamill learned in high school that he preferred working outdoors rather than sitting behind a desk.
“I wasn’t the smartest kid in class,” he said. “I remember one of my teachers preaching once that everybody’s not born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and they ain’t fed off a silver platter. I understand that. The teacher told us we needed to get a good education, and a job as a doctor or lawyer or such. He said, you don’t want to be a ditch digger all your life. And I made a comment that somebody had to dig that ditch, so it may as well be me. And it seems that’s what I’ve been doing, digging a ditch all my life.”
Hamill dismissed the notion that he has become an evangelist of sorts.”I’m simply telling a story of a man’s faith and trust in God to get him through a terrible situation,” he said. “Others will come along after me. I’ll be forgotten about in a year or two. But hopefully I’ve planted some seeds.”
Hamill’s primary goal is for Americans “to realize where our country’s headed and to realize we need God’s direction.”
“I’m just thankful we have a president who was willing to step up to the plate and take charge, and try to bring around a country — and a region — that doesn’t know anything about freedom and democracy,” he said. “People are going to have to stop thinking that it’s going to take place overnight. It’s going to take time, and we’ve got to be committed to finish what we started over there.”
Without such understanding, history is destined to repeat itself, said Hamill.
“If Jesus came along today and started healing people, we’d crucify him all over again, if not with nails, then in other ways, maybe through our legal system,” he said.
For more information on MEC’s annual meeting, call (800) 748-7626 or visit mec.ms.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.