October 7, 2001 - just another day in the life of most Americans. As one joint nation that was still reeling from the September 11th attacks, we patriotically watched our televisions as the United States invaded Afghanistan. So began Operation Enduring Freedom.
Since then, we’ve cheered for our country’s teams at three FIFA World Cups, three Winter Olympic Games and two Summer Olympic Games. We’ve encountered nine World Series games, the New England Patriots win three Superbowls and the LA Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs each win three NBA Championships.
We mourned the deaths of George Harrison, Queen Elizabeth, Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Marlon Brando, Julia Child, Pope John Paul II, Johnny Carson, Peter Jennings, Rosa Parks, Steve Irwin, Luciano Pavarotti, Heath Ledger, Sydney Pollack, George Carlin, Michael Jackson, Teddy Kennedy, JD Salinger, two former Presidents - Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and three of the four Golden Girls – Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan.
We’ve watched Enron and Lehman Brothers file for Chapter 11, Martha Stewart go to jail for insider trading and the stock market plunge fueled by the subprime mortgage crisis. We’ve feared anthrax, SARS, and the swine flu pandemic and marveled at the medical wonders of the first human face transplant, the completion of the Human Genome Project and the first person proven to have been “cured” of HIV.
We voted in George W. Bush for his second term and Barak Obama as the first African-American President of the United States. We waited for the smoke to clear to see Pope Benedict XVI succeed Pope John Paul II as the 265th pope. We saw No Child Left Behind and the USA PATRIOT Act go into effect, the creation of the new US Dept. of Homeland Security and the legalization of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. We heard about North Korea’s nuclear tests, the War in Darfur, and global protests against the Iraq War.
We wept with the world after the mass tragedies of the Indian Ocean earthquakes and tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, the Australian brushfires, the Haitian Earthquake and the explosion of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.
We experienced the founding of Facebook, the last Oldsmobile off the assembly line, the groundbreaking of the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero, the pilot and ending of Lost, the final book of the Harry Potter series and lingered as a leap second was added to end the year 2005. It has been almost nine years since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. The world population has topped 6.8 billion people.
As of July 25, 2010, 5,589 U.S. Servicemen have died representing our country in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
We are so lucky here to live in this pretty, padded world, shielded from the realities of what's going on around us and outside the United States. Even what's reported on the news is behind a screen in this little box that shows us only what someone else wants us to see. Eight years ago, we watched on those same screens our country being attacked. We supported our friends, family members, brothers and sisters as they jumped into action, enlisted and shipped across the world. We tied yellow ribbons on our houses, cars, trees, waiting for the day until they come home. We patriotically hung flags in front of our houses, sang God Bless America in our churches, sent care packages and letters overseas and held parades and parties to welcome service members coming home from their tours.
As years passed, we forgot. Forgot about our flags, forgot about our ribbons and patriotic songs and we went on with our lives. Which is understandable, it’s human nature for the pain to fade. We needed to move on and live our lives. What is most unfortunate about us moving on is that we forgot about the service members overseas. The reality is that 5,589 deaths are only a small tragedy in the grand scheme of things. But those 5,589 deaths were among the people who, day in and day out, are out there fighting to keep us wrapped up in our bubble here in the U.S.
So while I sat at work, at home, at the coffee shop on my street... safe and sound, I couldn’t continue leaving those people forgotten. A few months ago, I read a Connie Schultz article in the Plain Dealer and found out that the Department of Defense has an email sign up with notifications and press releases updating those who sign up on what's going on. (The article can be found here: Connie Schultz Article)
So, I signed up to start receiving the DOD emails. What's poignant about these alerts is that every so often I receive an alert announcing U.S. service member casualties. My little, tiny, insignificant gesture became a slight weight that I carry in memory of those who serve. It's amazing how much of a sincerely heart wrenching effect it has when I scroll through the hundreds of daily emails - meeting reminders, sappy forwards, funny jokes, bills and spam - to stop at the one that reads: DOD Announces Navy Casualty and Identifies Sailor Listed as Whereabouts Unknown. That was the one I received on July 27.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley, from Wheatridge, Colorado was 30 years old. He died from wounds sustained in an incident in Logar province, Afghanistan on July 23 while he was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Coalition Forces recovered his body on July 25 after an extensive search. He was a father of two and was planning to return to Colorado from Afghanistan in August.
Today, the DOD announced the death of Lance Cpl. Abram L. Howard, a 21 year-old Marine of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was scheduled to come home in late August and was killed on July 27 in Helmand province, Afghanistan while supporting combat operations. Howard, who was survived by his parents and two siblings, enlisted in the Marines in 2007 straight out of high school where he played football, wrestled and was in the orchestra.
Of course I have my opinions about the Iraqi/Afghan conflict, but those don’t matter. Positive or negative opinions on the war aside, what matters is that those men and women that are overseas fighting are not just another number to add to the count. They are mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters that grew up in towns just like ours with families that care about them and that will mourn their death much longer than a random post on someone’s Facebook or blog page. So maybe, instead of checking our Facebook page one more time or refreshing the Google Reader to see what’s new, we can take one minute. One minute out of the 1440 that we have to spend today, then one more from the hopefully many days we have after that – to remember. Remember those men and women who are out there representing our country and fighting for our freedom. I think that’s a minute worth spending.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley and Lance Cpl. Abram L. Howard