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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Difficult Christmas for Idaho family

For the Bergdahl family in Idaho, it was a bittersweet holiday.

On the positive side, they found out Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared in Afghanistan sometime around June 29, is probably still alive. But sadly, they also saw their beloved family member forced to recite propaganda in a Taliban-produced video, which was disgustingly released by the terrorist group on Christmas Day. The U.S. military quickly condemned the release of the tape.

Local station KMVT reports that the Bergdahl family released a statement through the local sheriff in Blaine County, Idaho. It urges the 23-year-old soldier to "stay strong" and begs his abductors to release him.

The media covered this story heavily back in July, but news about the plight of Bergdahl, who is believed to be the only U.S. servicemember being held captive in Afghanistan, largely vanished from the national media soon after. Important news of an attempted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet quickly knocked the Bergdahl tape off most front pages.

Whether Bergdahl's story stays in the discussion remains to be seen, but of course, the soldier and his family deserve our continued thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Courage, strength, faith, and sacrifice

Image courtesy: The Tyler Parten Foundation. From left to right: Daniel, Lona, Anna Laura, and Tyler Parten.

I consider myself a lucky person who has seen a lot during my young life. I have gotten a good eduction, travelled across this great country, and am married to a wonderful woman. Three of my four grandparents are still a phone call away, and both my parents are in good health. While I sometimes forget how much I have to be thankful for and take things for granted, I try to remember how many people across the world are less fortunate, usually because their countries are run by dictators who embrace evil ideologies. I strongly believe America is a force of good in this world; put on earth by God to give hope to the seemingly hopeless. We are not a perfect country and never will be, but everyone who lives here should feel among the luckiest 300 million people on earth.

But there is nothing that makes me feel more privileged than to have met or spoken with many U.S. troops and their families as part of my former job, and in my new career as a writer and blogger. This Christmas, as I enjoy time with family and appreciate being able to celebrate this holiday as both an American and a Christian, I can't help but keep looking at a beautiful card, which includes the above picture, that I recently received from a strong, inspiring woman named Lona Parten. She will be spending a difficult Christmas without her son, 1st Lt. Tyler Parten, who died heroically in Afghanistan on September 10.

I recently wrote an article for CNN.com about this soldier, focusing on Parten's humanitarian instincts and his compelling love story with girlfriend Meg Reedy. In fact, it was the very last project I worked on in my 4 1/2 years at CNN, and I look forward to writing more about him in the future. During the course of writing and editing the article, I was able to speak with the fallen soldier's aforementioned mother. I cannot put into words how deeply the conversation affected me, and how much I admire this woman's love for God, America, and most of all, her children. The late soldier's sister, Anna Laura, started The Tyler Parten Foundation to honor her brother. Tyler's brother, Daniel, is beginning his own brave service to our country as a cadet, currently in his senior year at West Point. And the soldier's father, Dave, continues to honor the sacrifice of his late son, while also emphasizing his accomplishments as a man.

"Tyler chose a life of service, service to God and service to his country," the grieving father said at the celebration of his son's life.

During our private, emotional conversation, Lona Parten showed me what faith in God and service to country is all about. Listening to her story also reminded me of something too easy to forget: the people fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not just on the battlefield. They are in small towns and large cities all across this country, doing the best they can while their loved ones are away. We could not have won World War II without all the support our troops got at home from family, friends, and volunteers. The same principle applies to America's post-9/11 struggle against terrorism.

When I go to church tomorrow night, I will carry the card Lona Parten sent me in my pocket. After Mass, I will show the card to our holiday guests, and tell them about 1st Lt. Tyler Parten and his family. Then, we will all say a prayer for the Partens, as well as all American troops and their families.

I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful holiday.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A case of the Mondays?

It's the Monday of a holiday week. As someone who worked in the news business for eight Christmas seasons, I can tell you that most newsrooms are like ghost towns right now. Many of the journalists working either lost their annual office holiday lotteries or ran out of vacation time.

Something I have not experienced at this time of the year is a deployment in a war zone, thousands of miles away from my family over the holidays. Right now, thousands and thousands of brave American men and women are doing their jobs while surrounded by sand or snowcapped mountains, wishing they were at home. War coverage is where the media and the military clash. Yet today, that collision is more like a minor fender bender, because the press isn't telling us much about what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I scanned four of the top American news websites -- CNN, Fox News, Yahoo, and MSNBC -- at 4:30 p.m. eastern. Out of all four of these websites, I found a grand total of two stories about either war in all of the top story sections! To be fair, the one Afghanistan story on MSNBC.com was given prominent placement on the front page. It's an Associated Press story about how U.S. troops are competing with Taliban terrorists to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. CNN has a negative article about one general's policy against female soldiers getting pregnant in northern Iraq, which applies to about 22,000 troops out of about 115,000 stationed in the country. In my opinion, the headline is misleading, and makes it seem like any servicemember who becomes pregnant in Iraq will go to prison.

It wouldn't make sense to simply give a story count without looking at what these four leading news sites are covering instead. So here's a breakdown. Predictably, all four have articles near the top about the death of modestly successful Hollywood actress Brittany Murphy. All four also have something about Beltway debate on health care reform or holiday shopping, and there are also a couple of stories about the death of Oral Roberts.

The only story among those being heavily covered by the media today that I see equal to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan is the health care debate, which impacts millions of people's lives. Brittany Murphy? I'm sorry she died so young and feel bad for her family, but is a somewhat famous celebrity's death more important than the casualties of U.S. or coalition troops on the battlefield? What about some of the compelling stories posted here that some local newspapers and TV stations have been covering? What about events on the ground and progress against the enemy?

Perhaps the best story today by any journalist about the wars is by CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who was nearly killed covering the war in Iraq in May 2006. She bravely returned to the country to report on the incredible progress U.S. troops have made in Iraq since she last visited. In my opinion, any reporter who risks his or her life to cover the war, even if we don't always agree with the way the stories are written or produced, deserves our respect. Yet when I look at the front page of CBS News website, I can't find Dozier's compelling blog post linked anywhere near the site's top story section. Why?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is Chris Henry more important than our troops?

Come on, media, this is what I'm talking about.

Chris Henry, a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals who was often in trouble with the law or suspended by the league during his turbulent NFL career, died after falling out of a pickup truck during an apparent domestic dispute.

Of course, Henry's death is tragic and we pray for his family. I mean no disrespect to his loved ones as they grieve. But why, when I visit some of the most prominent American news websites like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and Yahoo, do I see the story of his death everywhere and nothing about actual fallen heroes like Xhacob Latorre or Anthony Campbell?

These men sacrificed everything for their country. They may not have been able to score touchdowns, but they could withstand extreme temperatures in Afghanistan carrying heavy gear. They left their families to protect American freedom and help the Afghans struggle for theirs. While of course Henry's death is a compelling story that should be reported, there is no reason why his death can get extensive attention from national journalists while recent, relevant stories of sacrifice like the ones highlighted don't.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are going on right now, as we speak. Neither is an "old" story. Millions of people's lives are at stake and thousands of military families are worried about their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives. It's time for the media to step up and pay attention to the men and women fighting the war with the same zeal as the tragic story of an NFL wide receiver.

A Purple Heart in heaven

Last week, we learned about Marine Cpl. Xhacob Latorre's brave ordeal in a Texas hospital after losing both legs in Afghanistan's Helmand Province in August.

Today, in Latorre's Connecticut hometown, the Associated Press reports that the valiant Marine is being laid to rest with full military honors.

The Hartford Courant reported that Latorre received a Purple Heart in his hospital room shortly before his death. While his Aunt said he may not have been aware of the honor due to heavy sedation, we know the Marine is proudly wearing his Purple Heart today in heaven.

Latorre leaves behind a wife and an 18-month-old boy. He was only 21, but accomplished more in those years than many of us will in a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The silence is tragically broken

In hindsight, I wish I hadn't said anything about the casualty notices, but this is a difficult war and thinking we will go more than a few days at a time without any deaths on the battlefield is naive.

The Pentagon just sent out this news release:

Tech. Sgt. Anthony C. Campbell Jr., 35, of Florence, Ky., died Dec. 15 of wounds suffered from the detonation of an improvised explosive device in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Campbell was assigned to the 932nd Civil Engineer Squadron, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The Kentucky Post reports that Campbell was a Cincinnati police officer and had only been on the job a couple of weeks before he was ordered to deploy overseas with his Air Force Wing.

Campbell leaves behind a wife and three children. If you are reading this, please take a moment to pray for his family tonight.

The sound of silence

For the past five years, I have been subscribing to the Pentagon's news release e-mail list. While it has many functions, like updating general officer assignments and releasing recruiting statistics, its main purpose is to notify the media of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After speaking with several military families and servicemembers, getting one of these e-mails has become a difficult moment. It's not like any other message in my inbox, because everytime I see "DOD releases casualty," that means a family has been notified that their loved one has died for our country. A husband isn't coming home, or a mother will never hug her children again. The volume of these e-mails during this past October, for instance, when 48 U.S. troops were killed in action in Afghanistan, is sometimes unbearable.

The last Pentagon casualty e-mail I received was on Monday, announcing the death of Pvt. Jhanner A. Tello in Baghdad. Here's to hoping my inbox stays empty.

Fallen soldier's legacy spans the globe

I am honored that my last story for CNN is about an exceptional soldier, 1st Lt. Tyler Parten, and his wonderful girlfriend, Meg Reedy. It is posted on CNN's Afghanistan Crossroads blog, which is one of the few examples of the national media doing war coverage the right way. Speaking at length with Meg and his mother, Lona, has been a very eye-opening, emotional experience for me personally. Special thanks to both of them for their invaluable assistance in getting this story out to the world, and I look forward to writing more about this hero soon.

Soldier's death spurs girlfriend's mission to Africa
by Tom Sileo

On his way to Afghanistan, 1st Lt. Tyler Parten made a phone call to the woman he realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Parten told Meg Reedy that he loved her, and after his deployment, he wanted to travel with her to Africa, where she planned to become a minister to some of the world’s neediest children.

After his departure from Colorado on uncertain terms, Reedy and Parten would spend many late nights over the next few months talking via phone, e-mail, and Skype, where Reedy said Parten’s eyes still sparkled over a computer screen. The couple wanted to live together in an African hut and spread their message of faith to youth, with little regard for material gain or personal safety.

“I didn’t choose to fall in love,” Parten e-mailed his family from Afghanistan on July 11. “According to my plan, love was much further down the line.”

Before he could ask the preschool teacher to marry him, the 24-year-old U.S. soldier would be surrounded by the mountains of Afghanistan, during one of the deadliest six-month periods of the eight-year war. He died September 10 of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit in Kunar province, becoming one of the more than 1,500 U.S. and coalition casualties in Afghanistan since the start of the war.

Reedy said that while in Afghanistan, Parten kept his focus on children born in one world’s most troubled countries.

“Our last conversation was about the kids,” Reedy, 26, told CNN. “He talked over and over again about the smiles of children, helping them, and giving them water or candy.”

Parten’s Facebook page was filled with stories of entertaining young Afghans. “Tough days make the good days that much better,” said one of Parten’s final Facebook posts, which was noted by the Colorado Springs Gazette while reporting his death.

Reedy, who lived near Fort Carson, where she met Parten, was with a fellow girlfriend of a deployed soldier when her phone rang. When she saw the late-night call was from Parten’s mother, Lona, she could not bear to pick up the phone.

“Please don’t say it,” Reedy said when she called back. When given the grim news, Reedy repeated “no,” even as the grieving mother gently responded with “yes.”

While experiencing emotional and physical pain she never thought possible, Reedy joined the Parten family in Marianna, Arkansas, to grieve and attend the soldier’s memorial service. The celebration of 1st Lt. Tyler Parten's life was planned by the soldier's brother, Daniel, a West Point cadet who is also deeply inspired to serve. While commending the Army’s compassion and attention to detail while honoring Parten, Reedy said it was important to emphasize his worth to those who knew him, not just to the military.

Parten loved music and would tell stories of playing his harmonica for children in Afghanistan. In one instance, he told Reedy a small village gathered to watch him play, after kids ran to their parents’ huts in astonishment. “The American soldier is playing music for us,” Parten, who was fluent in Arabic but not the village’s native Pashto tongue, deciphered one of the kids exclaiming.

In the final moments of Parten’s memorial service, Reedy helped his sister, Anna Laura, sing the soldier's favorite song, Journey’s iconic rock anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’.” As his younger brother played the song's recognizable chords on acoustic guitar, the service culminated in remembering Parten for his kindness, loyalty, and selflessness.

“People left with tears in their eyes, but smiles on their faces,” Reedy said.

During their lengthy conversations about Parten’s education at West Point, basic training, and even possible death in Afghanistan, Reedy said the man she hoped would be her husband never revealed his feelings about the political debates surrounding the war effort.

“He always knew he was about serving others and making a difference,” Reedy explained. “He didn’t want to just get by, by only doing his job as a soldier.”

Like the man she loved, Reedy is not content living a life void of sacrifice or risk. With Parten in her heart instead of holding her hand, she has applied to a youth ministry project in Sudan, a country she concedes may be as dangerous and unpredictable as Afghanistan. Like The Tyler Parten Foundation started by the soldier's sister and mother, Reedy said she also wants to help kids in poverty-stricken, war-torn nations.

Reedy said she has prepared her family for the possibility she may not return from Sudan, if accepted into the program. But emphasizing her faith, she believes her destiny is pre-determined.

“Without my faith in God, I don’t know if I could have made it this far,” Reedy said.

If Reedy realizes the couple’s dream of sitting under the stars in an African hut, planning the next day’s Bible verses to read to children, she will likely recall an excerpt of one of the last e-mails Parten sent to friends and family. It was composed on the side of an Afghan mountain, on the soldier’s final Fourth of July.

“As for me personally, I'm both excited and a bit nervous. I'm ready to get out there and do what I've been training to do, what I feel I am meant to do, leading men in combat, but at the same time I'm anxious in the ambiguity. It seems I can never know what to expect next, but I suppose that's a good thing, for like I said, God has a plan that always seems to put my own plans to shame.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'The Hurt Locker' nominated for 3 Golden Globes

War is not a movie, as I wrote Monday. But if you're looking for the best film about America's post-9/11 missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, The Hurt Locker is a motion picture you will never forget.

Director Kathryn Bigelow, best known until now for Point Break and Blue Steel, tells the story of fictional Staff Sgt. William James, played to perfection by Jeremy Renner in a breakout performance. The lead character defuses bombs in Iraq, and for the most part, seems to enjoy it. But that's not to say he is immune to emotion or the horrors of war, without giving away too much of the plot.

Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal, and the movie itself were all nominated for Golden Globes on Tuesday. As former Washington Redskins coach George Allen liked to exclaim after a victory: Hip, hip, hooray!

A scene I will never forget, which taught me so much about what our troops go through, is when Renner's character suddenly appears in a suburban grocery store, shopping for food while thinking about dismantling explosives planted by terrorists in a foreign land. How do our veterans make that adjustment? It's almost incomprehensible to someone like me, who hasn't been through it.

Renner visited the CNN.com newsroom while I was still working there (unfortunately, I had the day off), and had a revealing discussion about the film with my former colleague, the brilliant Naamua Delaney. You can see Renner getting very emotional while talking about our troops and filming some of the movie's most intense scenes. How about an Oscar nomination for this fine actor, Academy?

Monday, December 14, 2009

War is not a movie

As I said on Friday, I have never served in the military or put my life on the line for others. Most journalists haven't. So writing about our troops and their families for these last few years has been a very eye-opening learning experience.

U.S. troops and their loved ones are some of the most incredible, selfless people on the planet. That said, they are not perfect. These are ordinary people under extraordinary pressure that few of us can imagine. Even the bravest heroes sometimes have personal and family conflicts, and they deserve our compassion and respect.

There have been some great war films. Some of my personal favorites are The Hurt Locker, The Deer Hunter, Saving Private Ryan, Taking Chance, and Born On The Fourth Of July, even though its overall message is decisively antiwar. Those films all portray Americans who make incredible sacrifices, but are also sometimes conflicted about family, friends, or even the wars they are fighting in.

One thing that needs to change, however, is the notion that it is all black and white. Hollywood and the press often take two extremes when portraying troops; they are either flawless heroes or dishonorable villains. The reality is that almost everyone serving is an honest American trying to do the best they can to serve their country and provide for their families. That is why I want the media to spend more time reporting on who these men and women truly are, because it will reveal the depth of what they sacrifice for us on a daily basis.

Instead, the press often chooses to obsess over every small detail of celebrities' lives. Clearly, Hollywood stars and sports figures are not perfect, but the difference is that they didn't volunteer to defend their country. Acting in a movie, singing a song, or hitting a home run is not as impressive to me as hauling 20 suitcases in an airport after flying for 20 hours. Is that not more compelling than some celebrity who openly admits she's only "famous for being famous?"

My grandfather, a World War II veteran, has always been captivated by Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. The baseball hall of famer was not a perfect man, by any means. He was a sports icon and a celebrity, and the media obsessed over his relationship with Marilyn Monroe. But, pardon the pun, there is a big catch. The Yankee Clipper volunteered to leave one of the most high-profile spots in the world, the center field grass at Yankee Stadium, during the prime of his career. And he did it to serve his country during World War II. Oh where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Highway sign dedicated to fallen Marine

My friend and former CNN colleague Mike Gertzman sent me a link to this good story from Newnan, Georgia's The Times-Herald today.

Saturday was the fifth anniversary of Marine Lance Cpl. Jeffery Steven Blanton's death in Iraq. In the fallen Marine's honor, a sign on a local highway has been renamed the Jeffery Steven Blanton Memorial Highway. Here is a link to the Georgia General Assembly's proclamation.

This brave Marine insisted on going back to his unit after losing three toes because of a gunshot wound, and ultimately wound up giving his life for his country. While his family still mourns his tragic death, it must be encouraging for them to see his sacrifice being remembered so prominently, five years later. According to the Assembly's announcement, he is buried very close to my town. I plan to visit the cemetery to say thanks.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The only thing I like about airports

With my immediate family and in-laws all up north, I do a lot of flying. It's no secret that airports are generally a miserable experience, with delays, bad music, screaming babies, and an atmosphere of rudeness. But there is one thing that always fascinates me about walking through an aiport: All the U.S. troops you see walking by. I always wonder where they've been, what they've seen, and where they're going.

A few months ago at Memphis International Airport, I ran into a soldier who couldn't have been more than 21 years old at an Arby's. He was by himself, hauling an incredible amount of gear. I am talking the equivalent of 20 suitcases. Astonished by all he had to carry, he shrugged and said "the stuff needs to get back, and someone needs to take it there." He was on his way back from Iraq and had been flying or sitting in airports for over 20 hours. He started out in Iraq, then Kuwait, then Germany, then Atlanta, then Memphis, and had one last plane to hop to Mississippi. He told me about the incredible desert heat, and said he would likely not take a shower with hot water for several weeks after returning home. He just liked the newfound privilege of feeling cold.

This is a different kind of sacrifice we rarely hear about. It makes me feel guilty for complaining about checking a bag or sitting in a cramped middle coach seat. Ever since, I have done my best to always shake at least one servicemember's hand and thank him or her for their service when I am at an airport. While some are tired, a small act of kindness will almost always brighten their day. If I had it my way, whenever a group of U.S. troops walk through an airport, they would be serenaded with applause. I saw clapping spontaneously erupt a few years ago at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and it was one of the most moving things I've witnessed.

To all the troops sitting in airports right now: You are almost home. If you're headed overseas, know that your country is behind you.

Why the troops need my help - and yours

It is just after 1:00 a.m. on the east coast, and in about 18 hours I will no longer be a copy editor for CNN. Even though I should be thinking about my career, and even reminiscing about all I saw in the CNN.com newsroom these past four-and-a-half years, two thoughts keep penetrating my mind. It is just after 10:30 a.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan, and just after 9:00 a.m. in Baghdad, Iraq. Hopefully, all our troops made it through the night in one piece. Some are in critical life-and-death situations as I type and you read, while others are bored out of their minds, playing video games or updating their Facebook pages.

My question is: Why doesn't anyone seem to care these days? Why is the media more worried about which alleged mistress is claiming to have sex with Tiger Woods today than how many of our men and women are in harm's way at this moment? This site, which will spotlight many of the everday stories you don't usually see in the national media, will hopefully help come up with sensible solutions for how to convince the press to help get America refocused on this critically important issue.

Many of our grandparents not called upon to serve were huddled around radios during World War II to find out what happened overseas that day. Some like to compare Afghanistan and especially Iraq to Vietnam or Korea. I believe World War II is the best comparison, because never since Hitler's armies of darkness loomed over the world has civilization been so threatened by such a patient, vicious group of murderers and bigots like al Qaeda. Terrorists who target innocent women and children, and behead contractors like Nick Berg and journalists like Daniel Pearl, must be stopped in their tracks with lethal force. The U.S. military can do that job. Yet medals are not enough of a reward when troops come home: They also need our utmost attention, respect, and prayer while they are away so everyone can see what great work the U.S. is doing overseas.

I have written and analyzed many stories at CNN and other news organizations about the defining moments of the 21st Century: The anthrax attacks, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the D.C. sniper hysteria, the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, Hurricane Katrina, the second inauguration of President Bush and first inauguration of President Obama, the terrorist attacks on London, Madrid, and Mumbai, the 2008 economic crisis, President Bush's 2007 troop surge in Iraq, and President Obama's 2009 escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

What makes me proud, and capable of sleeping at night, are the years I spent writing and producing stories about fallen U.S. troops for CNN.com Live, which no longer has the anchored newscasts I once played a central role in writing and editing. From Pentagon press releases and stories in small local newspapers, and in one case the high school newspaper the fallen soldier once wrote for himself, I was able to write a 30-second script about a hero's life that would be broadcast live on a major worldwide news site. I knew these stories usually weren't being told anywhere else at a national or international level, so I felt compelled to get them out to the public. I also believe these efforts helped me find my true calling, which is dedicating the rest of my life to serving the brave men and women who answered the call to rescue this nation and the world from the dark visions of Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, just after they attacked our brothers and sisters in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

I have not served in the U.S. military. Earlier this year, I attempted to join the U.S. Air Force Reserve, but was disappointed to learn I was ineligible due to a history of asthma. So to be blunt, I have not sacrificed anything, and as this blog progresses, I want everyone to know that I would never compare myself to a man or woman leaving their families behind to fight for our freedom. But, I will not be ashamed to call them my heroes or my inspiration behind a new career dedicated to them. Since I hold very strong views and have been involved with coverage of stories like Haditha 'massacre' and most recently the arrest of three Navy SEALs charged with 'assaulting' a terrorist, that word "chickenhawk" could someday be directed at me during a heated debate. I assure you I am not one. Even though I tried to join the Air Force, I knew deep down that I probably could not physically or mentally make it through basic training. I'm nothing compared to some of the finest men and women to ever serve our great country: I am about to go to sleep in a heated home while our troops struggle to get a few hours here and there amid brutal weather conditions and rugged terrain.

My grandfathers both served in World War II; one in Europe and one in the Pacific. My dad's father met my grandmother in post-war Germany, while my mom's father met my grandmother while stationed in Australia. My father, a doctor in my Virginia hometown, was called up to serve during Operation Desert Storm. While he did not deploy, he was about to be sent to Fort Bragg and then Saudi Arabia before the war came to a decisive, victorious ending. Listening to my grandfathers talk about their experiences, and then seeing my dad nearly deployed to a war zone and out of our comfortable suburban life, shaped my seriousness about the military. If I couldn't be a soldier, Marine, or sailor myself, I knew I would do everything I could to support them if my generation was ever called on to defend this country.

I chose the picture at the United Flight 93 memorial at the top of this post because what that site represents was the first opportunity for our generation to prove ourselves as one of the greatest. Hearing the stories of heroism by normal Americans on that plane, and then looking out to that silent Pennyslvania field where we beat the terrorists in this war's first battle, was an almost overwhelming personal experience. I had already visited Ground Zero shortly after 9/11 and lived across the street from the Pentagon for a year. While those attack sites were sobering, I felt that Shanksville was the most powerful. I highly recommend the superb, sensitive Hollywood film released in 2007, "United 93," by the way.

Like Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001. Our history is changed forever, and while there are some things we wish could be undone from these past eight years, the fact remains that our troops are still in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting harder than ever. We must demand more information from the media about the day-to-day struggles in both war theaters. We must ask the national press to pay as much attention to soldiers like the 13-year decorated serviceman with three children featured in this site's first post as they do to the release of a Michael Jackson movie. I believe this blog can make a positive difference in helping journalists wake up, and I will hope you will join me in trying to make this cause a national one.