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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The wave of the future

Image courtesy: Senior Airman Kenny Holston

Back in February, The Unknown Soldiers relayed reports of a late-2010 offensive aimed at destroying Taliban elements in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. According to Voice Of America and other news sources, the crucial mission will begin in June, with the goal of removing terrorists from the city before Ramadan begins in August.

As the above photo of Spc. Dawn Davis shows, U.S. troops are already bringing supplies to Afghan civilians in advance of the battle. Spc. Davis, a truck gunner in the 782nd Alpha Company, also provided security for the area, while U.S. forces met with Afghan troops to continue planning the Kandahar offensive.

Like Operation Moshtarak, protecting civilians, who are often used as human shields by the Taliban and al Qaeda, will be a top priority while winning this important battle. But the similarities will also be unfortunate, as the risks to American troops during this planned combat wave are real and tragic. As this site tries to convey to its readers, casualties are not just statistics or names routinely listed deep within a newspaper. They are real people with extraordinary stories, who sacrifice everything so children like the ones pictured above can have a chance at better lives. Many U.S. troops are also parents, who hope in the back of their minds that their children will never be asked to volunteer for war.

This site sends its sincere best wishes and prayers to all U.S. troops in harm's way, while also projecting complete confidence that their hard work will lead us to victory in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Commander-in-chief surprises troops in Afghanistan

Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Corey Beal

This site tries to avoid politics, as beltway bickering distracts from real sacrifices being made by extraordinary Americans every day on the battlefield. Yet a president visiting the men and women he's asked to fight should not be viewed through a partisan lens. It's an act that goes beyond symbolism, because it gives our uniformed heroes a boost in morale. Most importantly, it reminds them that despite all the divisions at home, we remain united in support of our military.

According to CNN, President Obama landed in Kabul at about 7:30 p.m. local time, or 11 a.m. eastern. He met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before speaking to U.S. forces at Bagram Air Base. Like President Bush's surprise Thanksgiving visit to Iraq in 2003, the trip was unannounced and cloaked in high security.

Despite the media's ratings-driven reluctance to continue covering Iraq and Afghanistan with a consistent sense of urgency, there is no decision a president can make that is more important than sending our brothers and sisters to war. Regardless of whether we agree with the orders given by President Obama or his predecessor, the commander-in-chief and the citizens he governs must stay engaged with these conflicts. Of course, we also have a duty to thank the men and women who carry out the president's mission with selfless bravery and dignity.

America is at war. Today, because of the unexpected nature of this presidential visit, our country gets a much-needed reminder.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Taliban 'message' targets women, children

Most Americans know the enemy we face in Afghanistan is brutal, cowardly, and hypocritical. That's not internet muscle-flexing or empty rhetoric, it's my strongly-held opinion, based on analyzing facts gathered by people on the ground and reading the Taliban's own words.

The latest Taliban atrocity was committed yesterday in Kandahar, where at least 35 people were killed in five terrorist attacks. According to CNN, six women and three children are among the 22 civilians killed in the bombings. At least 40 more innocent civilians, as well as 17 Afghan police officers, were wounded. According to the CNN article, Taliban 'spokesman' Qari Yousef Ahmadi claims the 'operation' was a message to Gen. Stanley McChrystal and planners of the coming U.S.-led assault on Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Kandahar.

The contradictions embedded deep inside the enemy's ideology are again apparent when confronted with their statements and actions. The Taliban and al Qaeda claim to be protectors of Muslim lands, yet intentionally murder and maim defenseless Afghans in public areas. Saturday's attacks were reportedly aimed at a bus station, prison, police station, and house. Of course, this is not the only case where the enemy has used civilians as pawns for their twisted goals: author and former Green Beret Michael Yon reports from the ground that a U.S. intelligence officer recently told him that "Taliban had stationed kids on the roofs of some of the compounds they were fighting from."

What 'message' did the Taliban send Gen. McChrystal and the men and women he commands on Saturday? The only one I can think of is "come stop us from murdering innocent people to advance our ideology." The human and financial toll of securing Kandahar will be high, especially for U.S. servicemembers and military families. The tragic nature of that fact is not something any of us take lightly.

After another reminder that the enemy remains committed to its murderous agenda, how can America walk away from a country that was the breeding ground for the terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania? While well-intentioned patriots can have honest disagreements with each other on that question, this blog believes America's cause is just. We must prevail. We also must play close attention to the volunteer warriors making extraordinary sacrifices every single day in a faraway land.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It happens every day

Image courtesy: Petty Officer 3rd Class Robbie Stirrup

Just after dropping off my mother-in-law at the airport this afternoon, I saw something very powerful in the corner of my eye as I pulled away from the terminal. It was an American soldier embracing a woman much older than him, possibly his mother, as he left for his flight. Where was he headed? Iraq? Afghanistan? Germany? Japan? A base inside the United States? While I wouldn't dare intrude on such an emotional, personal moment, I wish I could have asked.

I've written before about airports, and how seeing so many men and women in uniform walking around terminals is just about the only thing that makes waiting for a flight a positive experience. But today, seeing the soldier forced leave a loved one behind changed my view slightly. It's tough to look at two people with tightly intertwined lives, and ask yourself why they have to be apart.

Imagine being separated from your spouse, child, sibling, or best friend for a year or more, especially if you weren't sure you'd ever see their smiling face again. The emotions a servicemember must go through, especially while walking through airports just moments after saying goodbye, must be tremendously difficult as he or she prepares to fly into an unknown land.

Every single day since September 11, 2001, these moments have been occurring in airports, train stations, and bus depots across America. These gentle, sometimes uncertain farewells should remind us that every single volunteer in our armed forces is sacrificing precious time with the people they love most. While doing so, they protect our freedom to spend our lives with those we care about.

For this, we owe.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Victory: 'The Hurt Locker' wins Best Picture

When 'The Hurt Locker' was released in the United States on June 26, 2009, few noticed. A war fatigued media and general public mostly ignored the film, except for a few glowing reviews by film critics paid to see every movie, and an excellent segment by my former employer, Tonight, the movie completed its stunning journey to cinematic immortality, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.

As I have written before, war is not a movie. I have not had the honor of serving in the U.S. military, but I am almost certain that statement is correct. Some in the Armed Forces have mocked 'The Hurt Locker' for factual inaccuracies and dramatic liberties, and I will certainly not argue with a factually-based point made by a man or woman who has put their life on the line for our nation. Yet I will repeat what I told my wife after I first saw the film back in July: I felt like I spent two hours in Iraq while watching it. Even though the movie is fictional, I came away with an even greater respect for what U.S. troops go through in Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis.

To me, the key scene in Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning film (please do not continue reading if you haven't seen it) is when the fictional Sgt. 1st Class William James, played by Jeremy Renner, is shown making an almost impossible transition from Iraq's war-torn streets to a boring grocery store aisle. Regardless of any other scene in the movie, I hope the many people who will see it simply because it won the Academy Award take a moment to think about the adjustments our veterans have to make after coming home from wars they volunteered to fight.

'The Hurt Locker' is a non-partisan film. President George W. Bush, Sen. John Kerry, and the 2004 election are never mentioned in the film, which takes place in the heat of their campaign battle over war policy. And I don't think it's politically motivated to point out that a movie about the Iraq war won an improbable Oscar on the same day that Iraqis went to the polls in what many considered an unlikely exercise in democracy a few years ago, during the darkest days of the costly conflict. While U.S. troops in Iraq are still in danger and we cannot celebrate until they all come home, tonight is a night for us to be proud of the military. To all of you who serve so us ordinary Americans can sit at home and watch Hollywood congratulate itself at this time each year: Thank you. It doesn't take a gold statue for most Americans to realize that you are second to none.

Election day

Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Kelly Longbine

History is being made today in Iraq, where millions of citizens are voting in an election that will help choose a leader after U.S. forces leave the country. Thanks to the sacrifices of coalition troops, a country that was once terrorized by a murderous dictator is tasting freedom.

Sadly, insurgents have unleashed violent reprisals across the country this weekend. According to a Fox News report, mortar attacks killed at least 31 people across Iraq just as the polls opened. Once again, terrorists are proving they will target civilians in an effort to advance their crumbling ideology.

Over 4,300 American troops have died during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the debate continues over whether the war was worth our precious blood and treasure. But regardless of how one feels about the conflict, the accomplishments of our men and women in uniform are clear and undeniable. They brilliantly performed a task many thought impossible during the darkest days of the war, and Iraq finally has a chance to be free.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Real sacrifice

Image courtesy: Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde

The struggle for Afghanistan continues every single day, regardless of whether the national media decides to give it airtime. Over the last week, the Pentagon has announced the following casualties from multiple provinces in the war theater.

Sgt. Vincent Owens, 21, Fort Smith, Arkansas
Lance Cpl. Carlos Aragon, 19, Orem, Utah
Lance Cpl. Joshua Birchfield, 24, Westville, Indiana
Staff Sgt. William Ricketts, 27, Corinth, Mississippi
Sgt. Marcos Gorra, 22, North Bergen, New Jersey
Pfc. JR Salvacion, 27, Ewa Beach, Hawaii

These fallen warriors hailed from all around the United States, with unique backgrounds and life stories. With a heavy heart, The Unknown Soldiers will bring those stories to you in the days ahead.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Terrorists strike crucial bridge

Author and former Green Beret Michael Yon, who is currently on the ground in Afghanistan, is reporting that Taliban militants attacked an important bridge in the southern city of Kandahar on Monday. Near the bottom of an article about Operation Moshtarak in Marja, The Associated Press briefly mentions that a NATO soldier and four Afghan civilians were killed in the bombing. The bridge, which is reportedly damaged, connects the city with the crucial Kandahar Airfield. Yon, who heard the blast, writes on Facebook that the bridge "is important to us militarily, and to the economy. The enemy knows this bridge is important."

Yon is deeply troubled by events he believes led up to the bombing, and is pressing hard for answers. Obviously, I am not in Afghanistan, so I am not in the position to know if a different strategy could have prevented this attack. Yet Yon also highlights the lack of media attention being given to the incident in the United States, a coverage gap that is clear and indisputable. Prompted by his Facebook posts, I searched for articles in the mainstream press, and have yet to find any focused solely on the terrorist attack in Kandahar.

I have the utmost respect for the risks Yon is taking to report from the war theater, and can only imagine how frustrating it must be when important news from the battleground doesn't translate to airwaves, newsprint, and web hits in the country he loves. In fact, a scan of leading news websites at this hour gives top billing to Chile, Toyota, and health care instead of Afghanistan. While the chosen stories are legitimate, unlike many of the celebrity items that often fill the same sites, there is barely any mention of the war whatsoever, which is inexcusable. When will the media understand that drive-by coverage of an ongoing conflict is an irresponsible disservice to a nation at war? You can't just pick and choose when to talk about a war, you have to consistently report the news, good and bad, to people on the homefront. It's not only a patriotic obligation, it's simply good journalism.

While writing this blog post, I received a Pentagon press release in my inbox. It said an American soldier, Spc. Ian Gelig, was killed yesterday when his vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device in Kandahar. I called the 82nd Airborne Public Affairs office to ask whether Spc. Gelig, who served with the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, was the soldier killed in the attack. While unable to specifically disclose whether it was the same incident, the office confirmed that Gelig did indeed give his life on a bridge. We mourn the loss of this brave American hero, and urge American journalists to take notice of these extraordinary sacrifices. Hopefully, the crucial bridge attacked yesterday in Kandahar can be fully secured soon.

Moshtarak: The weeks ahead

Image courtesy: Cpl. Albert Hunt

The combat phase of Operation Moshtarak could be over in about ten days, but insurgents still pose a major threat to coalition troops who worked so diligently to secure Marja. That's the view of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, offered in the below military video, produced by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Schultz.

While pleased by how quickly his highly-trained units were able to secure the city, Gen. McChrystal expects the Taliban and al Qaeda to 'test' the new security structure in the coming weeks. As the above photo shows, Americans are still in danger, digging beneath the ancient sand to clear the area of roadside bombs planted by terrorist groups. The exceptional bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who helped seize this area from the Taliban should never be taken for granted.

Multiple sources indicate that Operation Moshtarak could be a prelude to an invasion of Kandahar later this year. Without the heroic efforts of Pfc. Kyle Coutu and his fellow warriors, the coalition would have an even tougher fight ahead. Our country is fortunate that so many of our brothers and sisters volunteer to do this crucial work.