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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Losing focus

For several hours today, the top story on was 'Can Lindsay Lohan be saved?' The entertainment article, which has little relevance to our daily lives, has no business being the lead story on any news site, let alone FNC, which usually does a decent job distinguishing relevant information from celebrity gossip. No articles about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan appear in the top stories or latest news sections on the Fox News homepage.

If you check out the websites of the top-rated cable news network's competitors, CNN and MSNBC, it's not much better. While, has an actual news story as its lead, a report on the nation's first offshore wind farm, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan are absent from the top stories and latest news sections. The site does have a special section on Afghanistan linked at the very bottom right of the CNN homepage. also has a news story as its lead article, about a financial reform vote in the Senate. Except for one video link to a report on an Afghan security compound attack, both wars are entirely absent from the MSNBC home page.

If I was still working at, or joined one of its competitors, I would certainly inquire about the lack of attention being paid to America's two wars this afternoon. Based on personal experiences, I would likely be told that even though hundreds of story links appear on these sites, there simply isn't room for stories that "won't generate clicks." Another excuse by some journalists who don't bother to look for compelling news from the war fronts is that "nothing is going on there right now." As the solemn news released by the Pentagon over the last seven days shows, there is a lot of news to report from the front. Voice Of America reports that 12 civilians were killed by terrorists today in Khost, while another three were murdered yesterday near Kandahar, where a planned U.S.-led offensive is taking shape.

American journalists are given extraordinary freedom to operate by the Constitution. Yet a ratings-driven, sensationalistic media routinely gives flashy celebrities like Lindsay Lohan publicity instead of humble volunteer warriors like Pfc. Matthew Wildes, who quietly put his life on the line for liberty. Perhaps some reporters and producers should take an informal field trip to the National Archives and look at the precious founding document that assigns journalists such important responsibilities. Maybe then, they'll realize how badly they are failing the Constitution and the men and women who volunteer to defend it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quiet patriotism, out of the spotlight

Images courtesy: Facebook

Eight months ago, many Americans were watching continuous news coverage about the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy and the ongoing health care debate. While those stories were important, the national media failed, almost universally, to notice the loss of an American patriot who put his young life on the line for a cause he regarded as greater than himself: Pfc. Matthew Wildes.

The fallen hero's mother, Mary Wildes, kindly reached out to The Unknown Soldiers last week to share some memories of her beloved son. As she explained, the unusually mature 18-year-old probably wouldn't have wanted the spotlight, even in death, because of an intrinsic humility uncommon in 21st century youth.

"He never liked being the center of attention," Mary Wildes wrote. "When Matt was growing up he never liked us taking any pictures of him or his baby pictures in our living room."

Pfc. Wildes believed he was ready to serve his country at age 16, and planned to enlist through the delayed entry program. While his parents were hesitant to see one of their three children deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they gave their permission about a year later, and watched him depart for basic training at Georgia's Fort Benning.

Joining the military was harder than Wildes anticipated. Because of stress fractures he suffered in his legs, he was sent home to rest for a month. Despite being frustrated with his injuries, Wildes refused to quit and returned to Ft. Benning, eventually graduating from basic training with a different class. The fierce work ethic, also uncommon at his age, translated to Colorado's Fort Carson, and eventually the battlefields of America's struggle against terrorism.

About two months after arriving in Afghanistan, Wildes was given some time off, and returned to Hammond, Louisiana. While he enjoyed his time at home, even in the south's unforgiving August heat, the young soldier was eager to return to his unit. When Wildes returned to Kandahar Air Base, he immediately volunteered for a dangerous mission.

An article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, published on August 29, 2009, recounts Mary Wildes' final correspondence with her youngest child.

According to the Pentagon, Pfc. Matthew Wildes was killed on August 27, 2009, by an improvised explosive device planted by terrorists. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

More evidence of the modest warrior's enduring spirit was found by his grieving mother.

"After Matt was killed, I found a baby picture he had hidden behind a big stereo speaker in the corner of our living room," Mary Wildes recalled. "Matt never gave us [an ounce] of trouble."

Pfc. Matthew Wildes, who was buried with full military honors, did not join the Army as a teenager for fame or glory. But his grieving fellow troops made sure his memory was appropriately honored, signing a flag their friend had carried with him from Louisiana to Colorado, and then all the way to Afghanistan. They will never forget the humble hero who was compelled to serve his nation, and neither will we.

Note: Memorial contributions in honor of Pfc. Matthew Wildes may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We will always remember

Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Tabitha Kuykendall

As many of us enjoy a beautiful Sunday afternoon, military families from Massachusetts to Iowa are mourning devastating news. Military messengers recently knocked on their doors to solemnly inform them that a loved one has died in one of America's post-9/11 conflicts.

Whenever I receive a casualty notice from the Department of Defense, whether sitting at home on my computer or checking e-mail on my phone, I lower my head for a moment. The announcements are not just press releases listing names. They represent sacrifices we can never repay, and families that will never be the same.

The following fallen troops, all serving with the U.S. Army, were identified by the Pentagon since April 21. As funeral processions move through their hometowns and their bravery is remembered, The Unknown Soldiers intends to write more about each of these heroes in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, this site and its readers send our sincere condolences to all six families.

Staff Sgt. James Patton, 23, Fort Benning, GA (Tikrit, Iraq)
Sgt. Robert Barrett, 20, Fall River, MA (Kabul, Afghanistan)
Command Sgt. Maj. John Laborde, 53, Waterloo, IA (Kandahar, Afghanistan)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Worrell, 35, Virginia Beach, VA (Baghdad, Iraq)
Sgt. Ronald Kubik, 21, Brielle, NJ (Logar province, Afghanistan)
Sgt. Jason Santora, 25, Farmingville, NY (Logar province, Afghanistan)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reports: 2 terrorist leaders killed in Iraq

File image courtesy: Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway

If the information provided by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki today is verified, coalition troops may have reason to celebrate another significant victory against al Qaeda.

According to news just breaking on and other prominent sites, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi may have been killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi rocket attack on their hideout near Tikrit. But as the article notes, Iraqi officials have made similar announcements in the past, and American officials need time to verify these new claims. Let's all hope these reports are true, as al-Masri and al-Baghdadi are brutal killers of U.S. and Iraqi troops, as well as innocent civilians.

Eliminating these terrorists would be a major accomplishment before the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq in September. Voice Of America reports that Gen. Ray Odierno believes plans for about 45,000 of the 95,000 American troops left in Iraq to come home are firmly on track. A full withdrawal is expected to be finished by the end of 2011.

The war in Iraq has been a difficult struggle for the U.S. military. We thank all the brave volunteers who have served there for their dedication, and mourn the many warriors who sacrificed everything on the country's battlefields. We all have a duty to treat these fellow Americans like heroes, and ask those coming home what we can do to make their transition as smooth as possible. Victory in Iraq will not be complete unless the men and women who fought with honor are fully supported by all of us.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Remembering laughter

Earlier this afternoon, I drove down to Tyrone, Georgia, to learn more about the life of 1st Lt. Robert Collins. As hundreds lined the streets of Tyrone and Peachtree City to honor the hometown hero, I was struck by how many different people told me the same thing, without hesitation. He was the funniest person they'd ever met.

"He always had a smile on his face," said Jason Swain, who knew 1st Lt. Collins through school and church. "When we'd play softball together and I was already on base, he'd run up right behind me after getting a hit, telling me to get moving."

While Collins didn't mind a private chuckle, he usually wasn't having fun unless he could entertain the people around him.

"I've never seen someone so focused on making people laugh," Justin Galimore, who spent a decade in various classrooms with Collins, explained.

While many friends and area residents kept smiles on their faces because they knew that's what Collins would have wanted, the reason for the large gathering south of Atlanta was solemn. On April 7, Collins, 24, and Pfc. William Blount, 21, were killed by an improvised explosive device planted by terrorists in Mosul, Iraq. The Unknown Soldiers will also write about Pfc. Blount's life in the days ahead.

While Collins' sense of humor is legendary around Tyrone, the intense drive to success he displayed is also deeply respected in the community. His parents, Lt. Col. Sharon Collins (Ret.) and Lt. Col. Burkitt Collins (Ret.), clearly instilled passionate, patriotic determination in their only child, who showed unmistakable signs of future leadership as a student at Sandy Creek High School.

"He was class president for a reason," a classmate told me. "Everyone knew who Robert Collins was."

Collins' intellectual brilliance shined in the classroom, and his physical toughness translated to the football field, where Collins excelled on the varsity squad. An airman who knew Collins told me his friend was once hit hard by a defensive lineman from Tyrone named Kedric Golston. Collins suffered a serious knee injury on the play, but stayed on the field for at least two more snaps before limping to the sidelines. The fierce hit may have showed why Golston would become a defensive lineman for the University of Georgia and later the Washington Redskins, but Collins' refusal to quit showed why he would become an American soldier.

Collins attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, where so many brave men and women before him have studied and trained. One of those heroes is 1st Lt. Tyler Parten, who I have been honored to write about extensively. Parten's mother, Lona, who has shown amazing courage and strength since her oldest son's tragic death in September, was the first person to alert me to Collins' story. It amazes me how West Point, which 1st Lt. Parten's younger brother, Daniel, now attends, is such a close-knit family.

Like Parten in Afghanistan, Collins was a platoon leader in Iraq. Today, the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team is undoubtedly thinking about a man many of them looked up to, as well as fallen Pfc. William Blount. Collins, who will be laid to rest on Saturday morning, arrived at Peachtree City's Falcon Field at noon. As I patiently waited to wave my flag to honor him, I couldn't help but marvel at the incredible turnout to salute this volunteer warrior. Police closed streets, fire engines displayed tributes, businesses closed, and strangers came to town to honor a son of American heroes who worked so hard to follow in his parents' footsteps.

As the motorcade carrying the soldier's flag-draped casket approached, sounds of grief began to drown out the Patriot Guard Riders of Georgia motorcycles. While almost everyone in the group knew Collins, many are also friends with his beloved girlfriend of eight years. Thoughts of her aching heart spurred tears as well.

While I recorded video of this solemn moment, I believe it is most appropriate to keep these difficult emotions private. Like the below West Point graduation picture shows, Collins always wanted his smile to encourage happiness in others. It did. Yet the courageous soldier is also helping us reflect on the extraordinary, often underappreciated accomplishments of his generation since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While I wish I had met the fine people of Tyrone under different circumstances, spending a few hours with friends of 1st Lt. Robert Collins was a distinct honor I will never forget.

Note: The 1st Lt. Robert Wilson Collins Patriot Spirit Scholarship has been established in loving memory of the fallen soldier. An address for donations can be found at the bottom of this linked page.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Iraq: Hard work continues

Image courtesy: 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

As the American media obsesses over every aspect of Tiger Woods' return to professional golf, the public should be getting an important reminder of the difficult work being done every day in Iraq by approximately 100,000 U.S. troops. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the war is not "over," despite the incredible accomplishments of American and coalition forces to spur a dramatic turnaround in the war-torn country.

Tragically, two American soldiers were killed yesterday in northern Iraq. There is not much information in the U.S. media about the attack, but CNN, to its credit, did post a short article on the incident early this morning. The post said five fellow soldiers were also injured in the violence. After military messengers deliver the painful news to the families, and the Pentagon releases the solemn information, The Unknown Soldiers will salute the bravery and sacrifice of these American heroes.

There is nothing wrong with watching The Masters or being captivated by Tiger Woods. I am a big sports fan myself. But there is a problem when so many American media outlets fail to report on an attack that will permanently alter the lives of seven U.S. troops and their families. The military, and the public it protects, deserve better.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A humble request to all readers

As I wrote in my second post on this website back in December, I believe the extraordinary sacrifices being made by the men and women in our military deserve consistent attention, which the American media is mostly failing to provide the public. Thanks to the honorable service of U.S. troops and your interest in their accomplishments, The Unknown Soldiers has been nominated for a 2010 MilBloggies award. Winners will be formally announced at the 5th Annual MilBlog Conference, which is being held this weekend in Arlington, Virginia.

This honor is not about a trophy and certainly not about me. It's about the public recognizing that America is a nation at war and that thousands of troops and military families are doing incredible things that we don't hear or read enough about in 2010. It is in this humble spirit that I ask for your vote in the final round, which began Sunday morning and ends Wednesday evening. The four additional nominees in the U.S. Reporter category are all exceptional websites and I urge you to visit all of them. If you feel one is more deserving of this year's award, then by all means please vote for it. In the end, we are all on the same team.

If you would like to vote for The Unknown Soldiers, here are instructions:

1. Go to and click "Not a member? Register Now" to create an account.
2. Check your e-mail and click on the link the site will send you. You will only have to do this once, and the site will not send you any spam.
3. Log in to your new account on the upper right of the Milblogging site.
4. Search on the upper left for my blog, The Unknown Soldiers.
5. Click on my blog's profile, then click "vote here" next to the red update message.
6. Click on the U.S. Reporter category.
7. Check off The Unknown Soldiers and hit submit!

You can monitor the standings, which right now are very close. Your vote, and continued support of this website and all blogs that support our military, are greatly appreciated.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Vegas show worth seeing

Las Vegas is full of glitter, gambling, and stars. Monday, the city welcomed home some real celebrities who bet on a sure thing: freedom.

A story by Sgt. Mike Getten on the Nevada National Guard's website recounts the dramatic sunrise homecoming of the 1/221st Cavalry Squadron, which completed a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. About 400 soldiers marched down part of the strip before arriving at the luxurious Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, where a ceremony was held in front of ecstatic family and friends.

"I am really happy to be home. My son was born in December and I just held him for the first time 10 minutes ago," said Spc. Franklin Vilaseco while smiling and admiring his infant son. “We finished our mission, and now we get to spend some time getting reacquainted with our families. I couldn’t be happier.

"If it wasn’t for the support my family gave me during the deployment, it would have been a lot tougher than it was."

The squadron, which mostly deployed to Laghman province, suffered no casualties in a year in Afghanistan. As anyone who regularly reads this site knows, that is a very fortunate outcome, and a testament to the hard work and dedication of these brave soldiers.

In a city often celebrated for its sins, Las Vegas should be thanked for honoring America's true heroes in a ceremony that ended in prayer. There is no doubt that while bowing their heads, most soldiers thanked a higher power for reuniting them with their families, and asked that fellow troops still serving in the war zone receive the same blessing.

Image courtesy: Tech Sgt. Wendy Yada