Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Friday, January 29, 2010

Afghanistan soldier dies at Walter Reed

The Pentagon just sent out a news release informing the public that Sgt. Carlos Gill, who was serving in Afghanistan, succumbed to an undisclosed illness at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

According to the Defense Department, Sgt. Gill was flown out of Afghanistan from Kandahar Air Field on December 19, 2009. He was serving in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

The 25-year-old soldier lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and was stationed at Fort Lewis in the state of Washington before his deployment.

Further information is limited, but this site will certainly post more if it becomes available. In the meantime, let's all think about this fallen soldier's loved ones.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

War coverage vanishes amid Haiti crisis, political drama

The earthquake in Haiti, Senator-elect Scott Brown's upset victory in Massachusetts, and the debate over health care are all big stories. The crisis in the Caribbean, where U.S. troops are now stationed to help, is particularly important due to human suffering at a scale the world has not witnessed since the 2004 Asian tsunami. Still, even in the face of these challenging stories, there is no excuse for the media all but abandoning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which do not pause because of other world events.

A study released by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that the devastation in Haiti accounted for 27% of news coverage in the week of January 18-24. Next was the Massachusetts Senate race, with 21%. The economy and the challenges facing the Obama administration both had 7%, and the health care debate came in fifth at 5%.

The Haiti story deserved to get the most media coverage during that period, so I have no argument there. But failing to give two wars with real human consequences anywhere near the same level of attention is a deriliction of duty by the national media. Between the dates this survey was compiled, the Pentagon identified eight casualties from the war zones. That means eight different families and a countless number of friends and fellow troops lost someone close to them during America's continuing post-9/11 struggle. Did that not merit at least a measurable amount of media attention?

Pfc. Gifford Hurt, who gave his life in Iraq on January 20, did not join the military to become a national celebrity. But that doesn't mean 24-hour cable news networks don't have time to honor his sacrifice, even while covering other important news. Having corresponded with his grieving mother last week, I know that even a few moments devoted by one of the big networks would have meant the world to her.

Many folks in the media, who I worked with for almost nine years, are great at making excuses. When I questioned the lack of Iraq and Afghanistan coverage supposedly due to a "big story," almost none of which had the impact of a true catastrophe like Haiti, I was often told things like "we'll get back to covering the wars soon." The problem is that the fighting continues, and troops in Afghanistan and Iraq can't take a timeout. The way I see it, the media ran out of timeouts a long time ago.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Three Marines killed in Helmand Province

The Pentagon has just announced the deaths of three Marines, who were killed Saturday in Afghanistan's violent Helmand Province. Officials say they died supporting combat operations.

Sgt. Daniel Angus, 28, of Thonotosassa, FL

Lance Cpl. Timothy Poole, 22, of Bowling Green, KY

Lance Cpl. Zachary Smith, 19, of Hornell, NY

The Unknown Soldiers will have more on the lives of these three departed warriors in the days to come. Please keep their families and many friends in your thoughts tonight.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

'We have lost a remarkable young man'

I do not believe simply listing a fallen servicemember's name in a newspaper, TV graphic, or website sufficiently honors their sacrifice. It is important to learn more about every person who volunteers to fight for our great country, so we can understand these extraordinary men and women who lay everything on the line so future generations can be free.

Pfc. Gifford Hurt was just starting his career in the military, as this coming Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the young man's enlistment. Tragically, it is also the day Hurt's family plans to bury the beloved 19-year-old soldier, who was killed on January 20 in Mosul, Iraq. An official news release said he was killed in a "non-combat incident" being investigated by the Pentagon. His grieving mother, Lisa Davis, said in an e-mail that she was told her son was the passenger in a Humvee that overturned when the unidentified driver, who is expected to survive, lost control. Even through her grief, Davis, who I have been honored to exchange messages with these last two days, has beautiful memories of her departed child.

"My son was a strong willed individual that loved honor," Davis wrote. "He was a hard worker, loving friend. He would do anything in the world for anyone that needed it. We have lost a remarkable young man and potentially wonderful leader for the U.S. Army."

Davis said Hurt joined the military straight out of high school, fulfilling a lifelong dream to serve his country. While she said Gifford was already well-mannered, nine weeks of basic training at Oklahoma's Fort Sill enhanced his values even further. She recalls many conversations with her son, including some late night and early morning Skype calls while he was in Iraq.

"I wouldn't close my eyes until he called me on Skype and said the same words that he said all the time: 'hey ma,' with his beautiful husky voice," Davis poignantly recalled.

Hurt wanted to serve many years in the Armed Forces, perhaps hoping to follow in his mom's footsteps. Davis served 22 years in the military, retiring in 2007. While Gifford never got the opportunity because of the apparent accident, it is clear that he touched many lives in his brief time on earth.

"I have recieved numerous e-mails from soldiers that he served with, and friends from around the world that knew my son," Davis wrote.

The young hero from Yonkers, New York, also leaves behind his siblings, who relocated to the south. His mom, who is asking for our prayers and will certainly receive them, will undoubtedly miss those late-night Skype conversations in the coming weeks, months, and years. But she knows he can still see her from a much better place than Iraq -- without an internet connection.

"He is probably smiling down on me now, knowing that his memory will never, ever be forgotten."

Image courtesy: Lisa Davis

God will give us justice

In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas famously shows us that justice can take many years of pain and suffering to emerge from the darkness. But if you believe in God, as I do, you likely have confidence that the world's most vicious, heartless villains will eventually be held to account for their crimes against humanity.

Like the coward he is, Osama bin Laden is purportedly taunting Americans from whatever cave he's hiding in, likely somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border. He doesn't have the guts to fight U.S. troops hunting for him head on, instead sending troubled youths to strap on bombs or use children as human shields, so the doomed terrorist issues crackling, propaganda-filled audiotapes.

This time, bin Laden claims responsibility for the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, according to various media reports.

"The message delivered to you through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a confirmation of the previous messages sent by the heroes of the Sept. 11," the terrorist purportedly said. "America will never dream of security unless we will have it in reality in Palestine," he added.

How's this for security, Osama? I am posting this message from an airplane on a blog dedicated to the U.S. troops who are going to take you down. I feel completely secure on this flight, thanks to the brave men and women who have captured and killed the misguided followers of your murderous ideology before they ever reach our shores. America wins, you lose, and the families of the thousands of innocent people you have ordered to death will see you brought to justice.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Not just names

The Pentagon has announced four more casualties over the past week from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am hesitant to simply list their names, even while information about their lives is being gathered, because it's important to remember all four of these men are worth much more than that. In Montana, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania, their families are weeping. All around the nation, people who knew these U.S. troops are also dealing with this crushing news that will forever alter their lives. The Unknown Soldiers will be telling the stories of these American heroes in the coming days.

Pfc. Gifford E. Hurt, 19, died in Mosul, Iraq, January 20.

Staff Sgt. Thaddeus S. Montgomery, 29, killed at Korengal Outpost, Afghanistan, January 20.

Capt. Paul Pena, 27, killed in Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan, January 19.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael P. Shannon, 52, died in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 17.

Please say a prayer for their families tonight.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bold, brief, and gone

Image courtesy: Arlington National Cemetery

Earlier this afternoon, I stood at the grave of Marine Maj. Megan McClung in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Even on a chilly January afternoon, sunlight glistened off the noble headstone, which is flanked on both sides by beautiful floral arrangements. Like other fallen heroes' names, McClung's was familiar, as I wrote hundreds of scripts during my time at Live about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what struck me deeply was the extraordinary inscription engraved on her headstone: "Be bold. Be brief. Be gone."

There is a good reason her name rang a bell. McClung was the first female U.S. Marine officer killed in action during the Iraq war. Yet, as I'm sure those closest to her would testify, there are many appropriate ways to fondly remember Megan. In just 34 years, the Hawaii-born daughter of military parents excelled as a triathlete, gymnast, marathon runner, student, Marine, private contractor, and advocate for wounded veterans. McClung graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and held a master's degree in criminology from Boston University. Tireless energy and a warm smile drew people around the world to this amazing woman of many talents.

According to an archived Associated Press article, McClung had only one month left in her deployment to Iraq when she was killed on December 6, 2006, in Ramadi. Working in a public affairs capacity, she was escorting an embedded crew of Newsweek journalists when her Humvee hit a massive roadside bomb, which detonated and killed her instantly, as well as Army Spc. Vincent Pomante and Army Capt. Travis Patriquin. The journalists were not injured.

I entered Arlington National Cemetery today through the main gate. After walking through the visitor's center, most signs direct you to President John F. Kennedy's grave and other well-known sites. Yet I walked straight down Eisenhower Drive to Section 60, a quiet, somewhat secluded area where heroes from the war on terrorism are buried alongside fallen warriors from previous conflicts. While trudging through the damp grass and seeing name after name, as well as moving mementos left by loved ones, I heard the booming sound of a 21-gun salute. Another fine American was gone.

When I woke up this morning, I did not know all I should about the life and legacy of Megan McClung, who now has a memorial run to benefit wounded Marines named in her honor. Saved in my cell phone is a picture of her headstone, which I will not publish here out of respect for her family. But when I travel down difficult roads in the future, I will pause for a moment and look at the image instead of giving in to depression or despair. "Be bold. Be brief. Be gone." Thank you for your bravery, sacrifice, and inspiration, Megan McClung.

Image courtesy: McClung family

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Decorated airman killed in action

The Pentagon sent out this news release moments ago:

Tech. Sgt. Adam K. Ginett, 29, of Knightdale, N.C., died Jan. 19 near Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Ginett is pictured above on the right, being presented the Bronze Star for exceptional service as an explosive ordnance team leader in August 2007. In May 2009, Ginett was promoted to technical sergeant, according to the Air Force Times.

An Air Force newsletter published in Iraq mentions Ginett being deployed at Tallil Air Base in 2004. Speaking about how he planned to spend that Christmas, Ginett said: "Probably just working a regular shift -- but I'll make sure to call my family back home."

Tonight, his family mourns. We grieve along with them, as a great American who spent the last years of his life defending our nation is no longer with us.

Image courtesy: Senior Airman Holly MacDonald/U.S. Air Force

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tragic week culminates with five U.S. deaths

The Pentagon sent out four separate news releases on Friday and Saturday, naming more U.S. troops who lost their lives this week in attacks by insurgents and terrorists in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Merriweather, 25, Collierville, TN (Combat Outpost McClain, Jan. 13)
Pfc. Geoffrey Whitsitt, 21, Taylors, SC (Combat Outpost McClain, Jan. 13)
Spc. Kyle Wright, 22, Romeoville, IL (Kandahar, Jan. 13)
Sgt. Christopher Hrbek, 25, Westwood, NJ (Helmand Province, Jan. 14)
Sgt. Lucas Beachnaw, 23, Lowell, MI (Darya Ya, Jan. 13)

As many Americans start their weekends, let's keep these fallen troops and their grieving families in our thoughts. The Unknown Soldiers will post more details on all five of these fallen heroes when they become available.

Image courtesy: Sgt. Ashleigh Bryant, U.S. Marine Corps. Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 2009.

Poll results: American media has work to do

On December 12, this blog asked you, the readers, this question:

Do you think the American media devotes enough time to U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan?

The poll results are staggering. 99% of respondents, or 109 of you, answered no. One person voted yes. While this poll is of course unscientific, a result this lopsided spotlights an obvious disconnect between journalists and the public, which other scientific surveys have backed up. A 2009 Sacred Heart University poll found only 17.4% trusted the news media to report news honestly. That percentage was down a substantial margin from 2003, the year U.S. forces invaded Iraq.

Several scientific surveys have also found viewers think the national media covers too much celebrity news. As someone who worked in newsrooms for over eight years, I can tell you there is a huge push among management to focus on entertainment. It's silly, irresponsible, and wrong, and many of the individual stories of sacrifice you see on this blog don't get covered as a result. In the wake of a real human tragedy in Haiti, as well as the continuing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no better time for the media to confront this issue.

Thanks to everyone who voted in the poll, and a new one will be posted shortly.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Three names every American should know

An e-mail was just sent out by the Department of Defense, confirming the deaths of three U.S. Marines on Monday in Helmand Province. Here are their names:

Staff Sgt. Matthew Ingham, 25, of Altoona, Pennsylvania

Cpl. Jamie Lowe, 21, of Johnsonville, Illinois

Cpl. Nicholas Uzenski, 21, of Tomball, Texas

The Unknown Soldiers will be working in the coming days to bring you the compelling individual stories of each of these Marines. Simply listing their names and moving on is not enough.

Brotherly love, personified

Jake Rademacher grew up with five brothers in Decatur, Illinois, thinking he would one day be a soldier. Had life worked out the way he planned, he would have almost certainly deployed to Iraq as a young man.

God's plan was different. Jake's poor eyesight kept him outside the military ranks; a disappointment he struggled to overcome. But after the tragic death of one brother and the departure of two more to Iraq, he eventually wound up in the same war-torn country his initial path was taking him.

In "Brothers At War," the critically-acclaimed documentary now available on DVD that's executive produced by Gary Sinise, Jake sets out to learn more about why two brothers choose to spend months at a time away from his family in foreign lands. While embedding with their units and filming his experiences at home and abroad, he accomplishes his mission, while also producing a valuable historical document of U.S. soldiers completing theirs. But in two separate trips to Iraq, Jake also learns being related by blood does not solely define the brotherly bond.

In the film, we see Maj. Isaac Rademacher and Sgt. Joe Rademacher deploy to Iraq. We are given a difficult glimpse into the pain of a wife, girlfriend, mother, father, and a beautiful little girl who may never know her father. While Jake's embedded footage in the war zone is important, the scenes shot on the homefront are a revelation. At one point, Isaac, who his younger sister lovingly lauds as "Superman," actually reveals he is fighting a "two front war" in Iraq and North Carolina, where he is shown with his family between deployments. Adjusting to life back home after a year in Iraq is taking its toll, just like it is on Joe. Going to Wal-Mart and hearing people complain about phone bills and other trivial problems is actually more difficult for the Long Range Surveillance Company commander than kicking the door in of an insurgent hideout. As he puts it, "nobody understands."

The film's unglamorous realism leads to its greatest achievements. Instead of seeing soldiers triumph daily in Iraq, we see them digging makeshift toilet holes in the desert. We see them playing video games, and in a hysterical segment, gathering around to watch "The O.C." on a rare night off in Iraq, after reluctantly admitting to each other that they all love the show. We see the brutal sandstorms, treacherous heat, and painful boredom of a five-day desert mission that produces almost no tangible results. "We're not here to blow things up," Sgt. Ben Fischer explains, offering the filmmaker what seems to be a semi-apology for the lack of action to record on the mission.

What the young filmmaker does best, though, is finally bring the military's almost mythical camaraderie to the big screen. This is what makes "Brothers At War" reality TV that's actually worth watching. We don't just hear troops talking about putting buddies ahead of their own welfare: we see it. In one of the movie's most powerful scenes, American and Iraqi soldiers put their lives on the line for each other in a way we never thought possible when 1990's America was captivated by smart-bomb footage during the first Gulf War. The film does not endorse the 2003 invasion of Iraq, since the troops fighting the war did not make the decision to invade. What it does endorse is hope. If American and Iraqi forces can become brothers in arms, can't we all learn from their example?

While he never says it, Jake's visits to Iraq help him realize that Joe, Isaac, Claus, and the late Thad are not his only brothers. He speaks to U.S. troops who were putting their lives on the line for him before they ever met.

"If you have kids, if anybody else has kids, we're out there for them," Spc. Christopher Mackey says.

Jake then poignantly asks: "Is it worth it if it costs you your life?"

"Yeah, it'd be worth it," Mackey answers after a brief pause. "That's why I'm here; I'd give my life for America any day. Wouldn't think twice."

2 U.S. soldiers killed on eastern front

Some sad news from Afghanistan today, where NATO confirms that 2 U.S. soldiers died in an explosion in the eastern part of the country.

CBC News reports the troops were killed in a bomb attack. No further details have been released, and as always, names of the fallen will be withheld until their families are given the tragic news in person by U.S. military messengers. To learn more about this delicate notification process, I highly recommend seeing the new critically-acclaimed movie "The Messenger," starring Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster.

The CBC report says 28 NATO soldiers have been killed so far in 2010. According to an unofficial analysis of Pentagon statistics, today's two deaths will be the ninth and tenth, respectively, for U.S. forces in January. We mourn each and every fallen hero.

How helicopters play a vital role in Afghanistan

While the story has not gotten much airtime on CNN in the United States, embedded international correspondent Atia Abawi does an admirable job reporting on how the military's largest helicopters are being used in Afghanistan.

Abawi did a nice job letting the troops on the ground (or in this case, in the air) tell the story for the viewers. I was also surprised to learn that choppers are moving more material in Afghanistan than Iraq.

Good job here, CNN. Now all you have to do is give these stories the airtime they deserve, as well as prominent placement on your website, and do it on a consistent basis.

Nebraska soldier dies in Iraq

The Pentagon announced the death of Pfc. Michael Jarrett last night. The North Platte, Nebraska, soldier was 20 years old and was killed on January 6 in Balad, Iraq. The military said the tragedy was a "non-combat" incident. Jarrett's death is under investigation.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Jarrett was based in Illesheim, Germany, before his deployment to Iraq. His flag-draped casket returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday.

58 U.S. troops with ties to the Cornhusker State have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

U.S. Marine killed in southern Afghanistan

According to various media reports, A U.S. Marine was killed Saturday in Nawa, Afghanistan, when a vehicle struck a roadside bomb. Another five U.S. Marines were wounded in the attack, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

This CNN article, which I will discuss more in the coming days, says British journalist Rupert Hamer was also killed in the terrorist attack. A photographer, Phil Coburn, was seriously wounded. Both men are employed by the British Sunday Mirror newspaper and were embedded with the United States Marines. The Marine killed in the attack has not yet been identified by the Pentagon, which never releases names of the fallen until next of kin has been notified.

Let's all say a prayer for the families of this fallen warrior, the five fellow Marines wounded in the attack, and the loved ones of both journalists.

New website address

Greetings everyone,

You may have noticed that this site's address has changed. The permanent link is now Thanks to all of you for supporting our troops and this site as it continues to evolve.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What's a weekend?

If you're like me, you love the weekends. They're a time to relax and spend time with your family and friends. Many Monday through Friday workers take Saturday and Sunday to watch ballgames, go to the movies, enjoy the outdoors, play golf, or fix up the house.

For U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, Saturday is just another day, and Sunday is just the day after Saturday. A war doesn't pause for a weekend or even a holiday, although some servicemembers are given breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas. These warriors are out on missions, spying on the enemy, training local police like you see in the above photo taken in Iraq, or trying to endure miserable conditions at makeshift mountain bases in Afghanistan. Some troops do have downtime, but many don't. One thing is certain: nearly all are missing their loved ones, and wishing they could be together for the weekend.

As Americans on the homefront, I don't think we should feel guilty for enjoying our days off. It's important to carry on with our lives during wars, recessions, terror scares, bad weather, and anything else God throws our way. But one thing I try to do at least once a day, and even more since I started running this blog, is pause for a moment and remember that half a world away, fellow Americans are doing extraordinary things to give me the privilege of relaxing for the weekend.

Image courtesy: Pfc. Jessica Luhrs, U.S. Army, Kirkuk, Iraq.