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

Monday, August 30, 2010

72 painful hours

Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Sadie Bleistein

On Monday, America woke up to more solemn news from Afghanistan's southern front. According to NATO's International Security Assistance Force, seven coalition troops were killed in two improvised explosive device attacks. The Associated Press reports that all seven fallen service members are Americans.

The tragic developments come just hours after we learned that seven volunteer warriors, also Americans, were killed over the weekend in southern and eastern Afghanistan. After losing 14 American troops in the last three days, the unofficial August U.S. casualty total in Afghanistan now stands at 49.

Of course, the men and women we've lost this month are not statistics. Marines, soldiers, airmen, and sailors fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq signed up to defend our nation and are willing to give their lives for causes greater than themselves. While the national media often has more interest in prying into the lives of celebrities and sports figures, The Unknown Soldiers was created to tell the personal stories of these valiant warriors. As the last 72 hours show, the time to recognize and honor our heroes is now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The guns of August

Image courtesy: Cpl. Skyler Tooker

During the course of this month, I have heard numerous cable news pundits say things like "it's August, there's nothing going on" or "it's a slow news month." I remember this myth being perpetuated during summer months inside newsrooms, where some producers trying to fill show rundowns would lament over the lack of Washington speeches while politicians took vacations. When appropriate, I would politely remind those colleagues that America is at war. Therefore, a "slow news month" is impossible.

This summer, there are almost 200,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. As their families know all too well, these men and women are not on vacation. They are facing difficult missions full of danger, tragedy, and (as noted earlier this month) extreme heat. Despite these challenges, our men and women in uniform have spent August capturing and killing terrorists, opening schools, providing medical care, and protecting Afghans and Iraqis. That is important news that should be on our televisions and computer screens every single day, not just when dates set by politicians arrive on the calendar.

The high volume of Pentagon casualty updates over the last 36 hours is tragic evidence of an especially urgent period in Afghanistan. Coalition troops are fighting hard, particularly in the south, and trying to prevail in battles that the world cannot afford to lose. Across the United States and around the world, families, friends, and fellow service members are mourning the loss of fine Americans tragically lost on the battlefield.

Spc. Christopher Wright, 23, Tollesboro, Kentucky
Pfc. Alexis Maldonado, 20, Wichita Falls, Texas
Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Schultz, 19, Safety Harbor, Florida
Sgt. Steven Deluzio, 25, South Glastonbury, Connecticut
Spc. Tristan Southworth, 21, West Danville, Vermont
Spc. Pedro Millet Meletiche, 20, Elizabeth, New Jersey
Sgt. Jason Calo, 23, Lexington, Kentucky
Sgt. Ronald Rodriguez, 26, Falls Church, Virginia
Lance Cpl. Robert Newton, 21, Creve Coeur, Illinois

America has been at war for almost nine years. The national media may be used to it, but for hundreds of thousands of Americans with loved ones in combat, every single waking moment is clouded by the reality of war. Despite some scattered examples of good reporting in August, many journalists in national newsrooms are still asleep at the wheel, using the quest for Nielsen ratings as an excuse for choosing celebrity gossip over real news. 30 years from now, Lindsay Lohan will be a 54-year-old woman who contributed little to society. "Jersey Shore" and its cast will be forgotten. Yet the nine volunteer warriors listed above will still be remembered for living and dying for a cause bigger than themselves. That's the power of service and sacrifice.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A new hope

Image courtesy: 1-178th Field Artillery Battalion

As reporters chase a JetBlue flight attendant and even debate whether he is a "hero," another worthy story from Afghanistan has been ignored by the mainstream press. On August 10, the U.S. Army joined with Afghan military and government officials to dedicate a new school building that will give over 9,000 young Afghans a chance at better lives. Despite being surrounded by the chaos of war, American soldiers and Afghan officials completed The Mehrabudin School project in Kabul province in less than six months.

Soldiers from Camp Phoenix, which is located on the outskirts of Afghanistan's capital city, teamed up with Operation Outreach Afghanistan, an organization made up of U.S. troops volunteering their time to help civilians in local villages. Judith's Reading Room also jumped on board to help The Mehrabudin School, donating dozens of boxes of books to help create the learning center's first-ever library.

It is tragic that the children of Afghanistan have grown up in a war zone for the past nine years. While Al Qaeda's evil ideology and the Taliban's efforts to harbor terrorists gave the U.S. no choice but to act after the September 11 attacks, kids like the ones pictured below did nothing wrong. As an American, it makes me immensely proud to know our troops are working hard to build schools and provide humanitarian assistance, even as their lives remain on the line in these villages at every moment. It's a big story, regardless of whether the American media chooses to notice.

Image courtesy: Capt. Chris Neeley

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Flashes of freedom

Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Gary Witte

American troops in Afghanistan are busy manning observation posts, sweeping for roadside bombs, digging canals, hunting terrorists, and coordinating with local officials. For instance, over the weekend, NATO said coalition forces dismantled a key tunnel system, destroyed numerous improvised explosive devices, and killed insurgents near Diwar in Zharay District. The area is known as a staging ground for terrorists fighting our troops and murdering civilians in Kandahar, where the overall success of the war in Afghanistan may be determined.

It is sometimes difficult for Americans at home to recognize the progress being made on the ground. But while painful, it is also essential to appreciate the sacrifices of our fallen troops and the needs of their families. Over the past 24 hours, the Pentagon has released the names of six volunteer warriors killed while supporting combat operations around the war zone.

Lance Cpl. Kevin Cornelius, 20, Ashtabula, Ohio
Pfc. Vincent Gammone III, 19, Christiana, Tennessee
Pfc. Paul Cuzzupe, 23, Plant City, Florida
Sgt. Andrew Nicol, 23, Kensington, New Hampshire
Pfc. Bradley Rappuhn, 24, Grand Ledge, Michigan
Cpl. Max Donahue, 23, Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Fox News reports that two U.S. Marines were killed over the weekend when a terrorist tried to escape from an undisclosed prison in southern Afghanistan. NATO said the prisoner was being given time to pray when he seized a guard's rifle and began firing. The Marines were killed in the ensuing chaos before the terrorist was shot dead. It is not clear if Lance Cpl. Cornelius and Pfc. Gammone, who both died in Helmand province on Saturday, were the Marines killed in the prison.

Soldiers and Marines who served with these departed warriors will always remember their accomplishments on the battlefield and treasure their friendship for years to come. The Unknown Soldiers will continue to relay the personal stories of our nation's true heroes in the difficult weeks and months ahead, while also noting the extraordinary accomplishments of our brave forces in harm's way. Thank you to all the brave men and women in uniform serving around the world with honor, dignity, and patriotism.

Note: This post was edited several times to reflect new casualty reports.