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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Missing sailor found dead

Image courtesy: Chief Petty Officer Julian Carroll

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown since disappearing with a shipmate on July 23, was found dead on Wednesday by coalition forces, according to the Pentagon.

The news release said Petty Officer 3rd Class Newlove, 25, died from wounds sustained in Logar province on Friday. The body of Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley, 30, was recovered on Sunday. Officials said he died from injuries suffered in the same incident.

While reports conflicted as this sad story unfolded, the ending is dreadful for the Newlove and McNeley families. While the exact circumstances of the sailors' deaths remain unclear, we pray for their loved ones and thank the service members who worked tirelessly to recover their remains. This is also a difficult evening for the United States Navy, which continues to investigate both deaths.

The Unknown Soldiers will continue to follow this tragic saga in the days and weeks ahead.

Air Force mourns tragic accident

Image courtesy: Tech Sgt. Cohen Young

Four airmen are dead after a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane crashed Wednesday evening at Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base.

KTUU-TV reports the crew, which included three members of the Alaska Air National Guard, was training for the Artic Thunder air show, which begins on Saturday. Col. John McMullen, the commander of the 3rd Wing, issued the following statement after the crash on his base.

"Our deepest sympathy and sincerest condolences go out to the family and friends of those airmen killed in this crash. Yesterday, we lost four members of our Arctic Warrior family and it's a loss felt across our entire joint installation. Right now, our immediate focus is on providing all possible support to the loved ones of our fallen aviators. We are also engaged in a deliberate investigative process."

Our thoughts are with the families of these fallen airmen.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Joining forces

The Unknown Soldiers is honored to announce an official partnership with Vets For Freedom, the largest Iraq and Afghanistan veterans organization in the United States. VFF's mission is to educate the American public about the importance of winning the war on terrorism. Gaining the unique perspective of men and women who risked their lives in both combat zones will be an invaluable resource not only for this website, but for the American public.

"Vets for Freedom is thrilled to partner with Tom Sileo and The Unknown Soldiers blog," Capt. Pete Hegseth, executive director of Vets For Freedom, said in a written statement. "Tom is a top-notch journalist who keeps the focus on the warfighter, telling the stories of service and sacrifice that the mainstream media often ignores. We look forward to amplifying his message, thereby honoring and supporting the troops and their mission."

The Unknown Soldiers will remain active in this web domain and continue to spotlight the bravery and heroism of American troops, veterans, and military families. However, as part of a content sharing agreement, you will also be able to find blog posts on the organization's website starting early next week. Donations to Vets For Freedom are greatly appreciated.

As this exciting new chapter unfolds, the cause remains the same. As I wrote on the day I left CNN, this site exists to spotlight stories of sacrifice from Afghanistan and Iraq that are too often missing from national media coverage. With America still fighting a war thrust upon us on September 11, 2001, the extraordinary accomplishments of our men and women in uniform deserve a more prominent place in our society. With the help of Vets For Freedom, I have never been more optimistic about the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Please keep American troops and their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dangerous hours

Moments ago, the Pentagon announced the identities of both U.S. service members involved in Friday's tragic incident in Afghanistan's Logar province. A confrontation with the enemy left one sailor dead and another missing.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley, 30, of Wheatridge, Colorado, was killed in the July 23 attack. According to the Pentagon, coalition forces recovered his remains on Sunday after an exhaustive search. He was assigned to Assault Craft Unit One in San Diego, California.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, 25, of Renton, Washington, is listed as Whereabouts Unknown. Defense Department officials said search and recovery efforts are continuing at this hour. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead also issued the following statement.

"The deepest sympathy of the entire Navy is with the family and friends of Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley, who died from wounds sustained in Logar Province, Afghanistan, Friday. We appreciate all the coalition forces have done to bring our shipmate home, and we know they continue to do everything they can in the search for Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, who remains missing. I remain extremely proud of the thousands of US Navy Sailors serving on the ground in Afghanistan today, and the tens of thousands who have deployed to Afghanistan during the past nine years."

May God comfort the McNeley family during this time of grief, and may He lend strength to Petty Officer 3rd Class Newlove and his loved ones during these uncertain, dangerous hours.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Among us

Image courtesy: Cpl. Ned Johnson

We see them in airports, often headed for destinations around the world. They stand in line with us at restaurants and movie theaters, or pass by on the jogging trail. Of course, U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are not supermen and wonderwomen incapable of feeling pain. Many miss home, and all are affected by the unique emotions of war.

Losing a friend and fellow service member on the battlefield is difficult for a civilian like me to imagine. Saturday in Afghanistan, two units felt that extraordinary pain when five U.S. troops were killed in two incidents. The 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, lost four volunteer warriors when an improvised explosive device planted by terrorists detonated in Qalat. The fifth fallen hero listed was serving in Helmand province with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Staff Sgt. Conrad Mora, 24, San Diego, California
Sgt. Daniel Lim, 23, Cypress, California
Spc. Joseph Bauer, 27, Cincinnati, Ohio
Spc. Andrew Hand, 25, Enterprise, Alabama
Lance Cpl. Frederik Vazquez, 20, Melrose Park, Illinois

Instead of filling airports, theaters, diners, and parks in the coming days, five families will grieve alongside hundreds of mourners in different cities around the country. If you live near any of these locations, check local newspapers for information about public processions and memorial services for your hometown heroes. As I discovered in April, joining together to personally honor a fallen warrior is an essential American experience.

Just moments ago, I watched several national media pundits debate whether we are 'losing' the war in Afghanistan. Had I been in the studio, I would have asked each panelist to recall how they felt on September 12, 2001. As an awakened, grieving nation yearning for justice after 24 hours of horror, we pledged to win this war, no matter how long it took. Fortunately, we still see citizens honoring that solemn vow, even though some were in elementary school when America was attacked. The men and women of the United States military will never give up.

Note: The above video is not posted as a product endorsement. The commercial aired only once, during the first post-9/11 Super Bowl on February 3, 2002.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The missing

While information conflicts about Sunday's events in Afghanistan's Logar province, reports almost universally indicate that one of two missing American sailors is dead. The U.S. military has not yet confirmed this tragic detail.

Reuters reports that terrorists claim to be holding a wounded service member and the body of another, while a provincial official in Logar province said U.S. troops had already recovered the fallen hero's remains. The Taliban is notorious for lying and exaggerating about events on the ground.

The Logar official told Reuters that the abducted American is probably injured and in need of medical care. The U.S. military is reportedly distributing flyers offering a reward for information about the sailor's whereabouts.

The Taliban shows true cowardice on a daily basis by burying bombs, attacking civilian squares, and using innocent Afghans as human shields. While the U.S. military didn't need another reminder about our enemy's nature, events of this weekend should only increase the public's will to crush the group that harbored many of 9/11's perpetrators. Both sailors and their families remain in our thoughts, along with all the volunteer warriors serving overseas.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reports: 2 U.S. troops abducted, 5 killed

Early Saturday morning, NATO's International Security Assistance Force released a statement announcing that two coalition servicemembers had gone missing south of Kabul. Officials said "the unit dispatched vehicles and rotary-winged assets to search for them and their vehicle, and the search is ongoing."

Saturday afternoon, CNN, citing Afghan security officials, reported that the missing troops are Americans abducted from Logar province. The Associated Press later reported that the missing troops are U.S. Navy personnel. As noted by NATO, both servicemembers did not return to their Kabul city compound after leaving Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, NATO also announced that five coalition troops were killed in two bombings in southern Afghanistan. According to a report in The Los Angeles Times, U.S. military officials said the fallen volunteer warriors are Americans.

As many of us unwind after a long week of work, let's make sure to keep our troops and their families in our hearts. As you visit with friends and neighbors over the weekend, tell them about Saturday's important developments in Afghanistan. While praying for the safety of our men and women in uniform, our nation must regain its focus. Osama bin Laden is at large, as the United States and its allies remain under a constant threat of terrorism. We must prevail.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The mission persists

NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirms that two allied troops were killed in a southern Afghanistan helicopter crash. Voice Of America reports that the Taliban is claiming it shot down the chopper. Of course, terrorists have made many false claims about past crashes of coalition aircraft. The helicopter went down in Helmand province, not far from Lashkar Gah.

Elsewhere, NATO announced the capture of two Taliban-affiliated terrorists in Kandahar City on Wednesday night. Officials said a Taliban logistics officer and an enemy facilitator were captured in a Lay Bala Karz compound without a single shot being fired. A weapons cache was seized by coalition forces, and no civilians were injured or killed.

Despite the daily progress of U.S.-led troops, losses on the battlefield continue to be painful. The Pentagon released the identities of nine fallen Americans over the last 48 hours.

Cpl. Julio Vargas, 23, Sylmar, California
Cpl. Joe Wrightsman, 23, Jonesboro, Louisiana
Sgt. Justin Allen, 23, Coal Grove, Ohio
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Eastman, 28, Moose Pass, Alaska
1st Lt. Robert Bennedsen, 25, Vashon, Washington
Sgt. Anibal Santiago, 37, Belvidere, Illinois
Sgt. Jesse Tilton, 23, Decatur, Illinois
Cpl. Paul Miller, 22, Traverse City, Michigan
Staff Sgt. Brian Piercy, 27, Clovis, California

May God bless these valiant volunteer warriors and their families.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The biggest stage

Images courtesy: Facebook

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts

In his first year at the United States Military Academy, 1st Lt. Christopher Goeke recited that oft-quoted Shakespeare monologue to a West Point audience. In a Facebook post, fellow cadet Lang Kanai recalled the moment.

"Chris really was an exceptional guy. I still remember Jacques' soliloquy that he delivered so well when we put on As You Like It [the first] year, in addition to his great song writing and guitar playing."

The famous speech, while cynical and somewhat dark, is noteworthy for spelling out seven ages of manhood: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old age, and death. While more optimistic than the character he played, an examination of 1st Lt. Goeke's life shows that he closely followed William Shakespeare's blueprint. He had a busy childhood in Apple Valley, Minnesota, teaching Sunday School, playing intramural football, and learning the guitar. But his ultimate goal, which was always in mind as he methodically studied history and the Bible, was to serve his country in the military.

"You could tell in 2004 when he graduated that year that this was a kid who exhibited a type of not only excellence in the classroom, but also a form of quiet civility that people were really drawn to," added [school administrator Joe] Wycoff.

WCCO-TV, which spoke to Apple Valley High School officials, reports that the schoolboy had recently advanced to Shakespeare's next stages of life. The station's article said Goeke married a beautiful bride about 18 months ago after graduating sixth in his class at West Point. A deployment to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina would come next.

According to the Department of Defense, 1st Lt. Goeke was killed one week ago in Kandahar. He died alongside Staff Sgt. Christopher Stout and Staff Sgt. Sheldon Tate when terrorists attacked an Afghan National Army facility with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

In addition to his wife, Goeke leaves behind his mother, father, and siblings, who grieve in private but publicly salute their loved one's passion for God and the American flag. James Shreve, who works in the Commandant of Cadets and counseled Goeke as a student, wrote on Facebook that the future soldier was "a remarkable young man that had the world in the palm of his hands."

"He did it right! God Bless you and your Family. Be Thou At Peace."

1st Lt. Christopher Goeke was well on his way to advancing to Shakespeare's fifth age: justice. He almost certainly would have returned from the battlefield with wisdom and an even bigger perspective on the world he volunteered to defend. From Apple Valley to Kandahar, family, friends, teachers, students, and soldiers are remembering a leader who seized the opportunity to act on the world's biggest stage. If only he had more than 23 years to complete his honorable journey.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pressing forward

Image courtesy: Spc. Christian Palermo

While painful increases in Afghanistan war casualties have been difficult to bear, reports from the front Monday morning make clear that our military is aggressively pushing ahead in Kandahar. While the American public may not be fully engaged, our men and women in uniform are committed to nothing less than total victory.

Freelance journalist Conor Powell, who has embedded several times with U.S. troops, just appeared on Fox News with new video of a dramatic gun battle today in the city's Zhari district. Appearing at about 6 p.m. local time, Powell said the area, where wanted Taliban leader Mullah Omar once lived, is a hotbed for insurgents. To win the war in Afghanistan, terrorist elements in Zhari must be destroyed.

While the media's overall coverage of Afghanistan has been lackluster, brave journalists like Powell have my utmost respect for risking their lives to bring the story home. He will be appearing on Fox News throughout the day to discuss his crew's experience in the middle of today's violence. We pray that all American troops involved made it safely back to base after another tough day in the field.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Pentagon identified nine more U.S. servicemembers recently killed in action around Afghanistan. Hailing from Orefield, Pennsylvania all the way Napa, California, these young men all grew up to make their country enormously proud. Their selfless contributions to victory in the post-9/11 struggle against terrorism will never be taken for granted.

Sgt. Matthew Weikert, 29, Jacksonville, Illinois
Pvt. Brandon King, 23, Tallahassee, Florida
1st Lt. Christopher Goeke, 23, Apple Valley, Minnesota
Staff Sgt. Christopher Stout, 34, Worthville, Kentucky
Staff Sgt. Sheldon Tate, 27, Hinesville, Georgia
Spc. Chase Stanley, 21, Napa, California
Spc. Jesse Reed, 26, Orefield, Pennsylvania
Spc. Matthew Johnson, 21, Maplewood, Minnesota
Sgt. Zachary Fisher, 24, Ballwin, Missouri

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hope amid pain

Image courtesy: Cpl. Ned Johnson

Over the past 48 hours, the Pentagon has identified 14 U.S. troops recently killed in Afghanistan. The fallen servicemembers, who hailed from eleven different states, leave behind grieving families and friends across the nation, as well as fellow troops stationed around the world.

Spc. Christopher Moon, 20, Tucson, Arizona
Staff Sgt. Shaun Mittler, 32, Austin, Texas
Spc. Edwin Wood, 18, Omaha, Nebraska
Staff Sgt. Christopher Cabacoy, 30, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Pfc. Nathaniel Garvin, 20, Radcliff, Kentucky
Spc. Carlos Negron, 40, Fort Myers, Florida
Pfc. Anthony Simmons, 25, Tallahassee, Florida
Staff Sgt. Jesse Ainsworth, 25, Dayton, Texas
Sgt. Donald Edgerton, 33, Murphy, North Carolina
Sgt. Robert Crow, 42, Kansas City, Missouri
Spc. Joseph Dimock, 21, Wildwood, Illinois
Staff Sgt. Christopher Antonik, 29, Crystal Lake, Illinois
Lance Cpl. Daniel Raney, 21, Pleasant View, Tennessee
Lance Cpl. Tyler Roads, 20, Burney, California

Wednesday morning, officials with NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed to various news outlets that eight more U.S. troops were killed on Wednesday in multiple attacks in southern Afghanistan. As we near the midway point of July, we know it will be another painful month for many military families.

While casualty statistics are published, many daily triumphs by coalition forces are unknown. Marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen are taking enormous risks every single day in Afghanistan and Iraq. As terrorists are killed or captured, schools rebuilt, and innocent civilians protected, there is still reason for hope. If you believe in protecting the United States from another devastating terrorist attack and ridding the world of widespread Islamic extremism, victory is our only choice. There is no group of people working harder to accomplish that mission than the men and women of our military.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unbreakable tenacity

Image courtesy: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter

By any measure, it has been a painful start to the weekend in Afghanistan, where Saturday is not a day off work for U.S. forces. NATO's International Security Assistance Force announced that six American troops have died around the country. Two were killed in roadside bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan, while four were killed in three separate Saturday assaults on the eastern front.

Each of these six fallen heroes have unique personal stories and loved ones whom will miss them dearly. Despite these awful losses, which add to the pain of the deadliest summer of the war in Afghanistan, thousands of brave Americans will go out on more missions around the war-torn terrain and fight with valor in the coming days. As we enjoy weekend activities on the homefront, let's keep our troops in the forefront of our minds, and remind others of the consequential events happening far from our shores.

While the identities of the troops killed in action on Saturday will not be revealed until families of the fallen have been notified, the Pentagon has announced the passing of seven more U.S. soldiers who recently died from injuries suffered in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Andrew Creighton, 23, Laurel, Delaware
Pfc. Jacob Dennis, 22, Powder Springs, Georgia
Spc. Keenan Cooper, 19, Wahpeton, North Dakota
Spc. Jerod Osborne, 20, Royse City, Texas
Staff Sgt. Marc Arizmendez, 30, Anaheim, California
Spc. Roger Lee, 26, Monterey, California
Pfc. Michael Pridham, 19, Louisville, Kentucky

As always, The Unknown Soldiers will bring you as many stories as possible about these fallen heroes in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, we must compliment the steadfastness being shown by our troops on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq with resolve here at home. We are all in this post-9/11 struggle against terrorism together.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dangerous July

Image courtesy: Lt. Col. Mohammad Jalal Naim

After the deadliest month of the war in Afghanistan for U.S. and coalition troops, violence continues to be heavy on the ground. NATO's International Security Assistance Force is confirming six more allied casualties, including five Americans, around Afghanistan. At least 14 NATO troops have been killed so far in July, after more than 100 died in June.

While the tragic loss of so many fine Americans is incredibly difficult to bear, there are many positive stories from the front that are generally not covered by the mainstream press. In the various newsrooms I worked in, military press releases were usually dismissed as "propaganda," while reports of civilian casualties, with Taliban or Iraqi insurgents exaggerating or fabricating statistics, were often taken quite seriously. The vast majority of journalists I've met at major networks and wire services are antiwar. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when reporters and producers generally don't distinguish between the U.S. military and terrorists who intentionally murder women and children, it's a problem.

This ISAF story is a good example of why coalition forces are the good guys. Over the weekend, troops found and disabled an improvised explosive device in a soccer field where Afghan children often play. According to ISAF, an anonymous tip was provided to Afghan and NATO security officers.

"It's hard not to believe this was an attempt to target local children or Afghan families who play on this soccer field," said a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) team sergeant involved in the response.

For the next year, or whatever length of time combat operations continue in Afghanistan, this war will be bloody and difficult. Yet as fair-minded Americans, we know our troops are completely dedicated to destroying al Qaeda and the Taliban, while doing everything in their power to minimize civilian casualties. Terrorists will continue planting IED's in markets, strapping bombs to innocent civilians, kidnapping and beheading contractors, and using children as human shields. To realize the importance of victory, we must be honest about the enemy we are fighting. The idea of evil once again dominating the country where the 9/11 attacks were planned is morally abhorrent and strategically unacceptable.

Letter to the troops

Image courtesy: U.S. Army/Michal Miszta

Shortly after arriving in Afghanistan, commanding Gen. David Petraeus sent the following letter to troops serving in the war zone:

To the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Civilians of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force:

We serve in Afghanistan at a critical time. With the surge in ISAF strength and the growth of Afghan forces, we and our Afghan comrades have a new opportunity. Together, we can ensure that Afghanistan will not once again be ruled by those who embrace indiscriminate violence and trans-national extremists, and we can ensure that Al Qaeda and other extremist elements cannot once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on our homelands and of the Afghan people.

This has been a hard fight. As you have soldiered together with our Afghan partners to reverse the Taliban momentum and to take away Taliban safe havens, the enemy has fought back. ISAF and Afghan Forces sustained particularly tough losses last month. Nonetheless, in the face of an enemy willing to carry out the most barbaric of attacks, progress has been achieved in some critical areas, and we are poised to realize more.

This effort is a contest of wills. Our enemies will do all that they can do to shake our confidence and the confidence of the Afghan people. In turn, we must continue to demonstrate our resolve to the enemy. We will do so through our relentless pursuit of the Taliban and others who mean Afghanistan harm, through our compassion for the Afghan people, and through our example and the values that we live.

Together with our Afghan partners, we must secure and serve the people of Afghanistan. We must help Afghan leaders develop their security forces and build their capacity to govern, so that they can increasingly take on the tasks of securing their country and seeing to the needs of the Afghan people.

This endeavor has to be a team effort. We must strive to contribute to the “Team of Teams” at work in Afghanistan and to achieve unity of effort with our diplomatic, international civilian, and Afghan partners as we carry out a comprehensive, civil-military counterinsurgency campaign

We must also continue our emphasis on reducing the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum. We must never forget that the decisive terrain in Afghanistan is the human terrain.

Protecting those we are here to help nonetheless does require killing, capturing, or turning the insurgents. We will not shrink from that; indeed, you have been taking the fight to the enemy and we will continue to do so. Beyond that, as you and our Afghan partners on the ground get into tough situations, we must employ all assets to ensure your safety, keeping in mind, again, the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.

I appreciate your sacrifices and those of your families as we serve in a mission of vital importance to the people of Afghanistan, to our nations, and to the world. And I pledge my total commitment to our missions as we work together to help achieve a brighter future for a new country in an ancient land.

-ISAF Commander David H. Petraeus

A PDF capture of the letter shows a separate, handwritten message from the general: "It is an honor to serve with you." Please keep Gen. Petraeus and all the brave men and women serving in Afghanistan in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lessons in courage

Image courtesy: U.S. Air Force

On June 9, Capt. David Wisniewski was busy doing what he did best: saving lives. Though the pilot had already flown over 280 combat hours, this HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter mission produced some of the most intense moments of the airman's eight-year Air Force career.

"In one day, Dave was key in saving 40 people during the largest single mass casualty mission in Regional Command South," said Lt. Col. Thomas Dorl, commander of the 66th RQS. "This was no small feat as he braved enemy action and flew into a hot landing zone three times to save people."

The Wednesday afternoon mission ended in tragedy. The Pave Hawk chopper crashed, killing four airmen: Tech Sgt. Michael Flores, 1st Lt. Joel Gentz, Staff Sgt. David Smith, and Senior Airman Benjamin White. June 9 was the deadliest day for the Air Force in more than five years.

Word quickly reached loved ones that Capt. Wisniewski was badly injured in the crash, along with Capt. Anthony Simone and Tech Sgt. Christopher Aguilera. To help keep friends and relatives updated, the Wisniewski family quickly launched a blog to chronicle the hectic series of events.

"We are getting ready for our flight at 6:55ish at night," the family wrote on June 10. "Getting anxious not really knowing what to expect 'til we get [to Bethesda Naval Hospital]. I am just glad he is safe and in good hands now."

Wisniewski, who was stationed at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base, lived in Las Vegas with his fiancee. After graduating high school in Iowa, he attended the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. Wisniewski enjoyed golfing, and undoubtedly appreciated being surrounded by beautiful courses at Vegas resorts. As a patient in Bethesda, he was surrounded by loving family members, who prayed and refused to give up. One special relative recounted a proud moment in the hospital on June 23.

"Today was an eventful day because David received his purple heart. It was an experience that I will not soon forget if I ever do. I am so very proud of my brother and all the military people that put their lives on the line for our freedoms every day. All military people are heroes in my book and I will not forget what each and every one does for me, my family, and all the other families out there."

Wisniewski underwent brain surgery in the days following the tragic crash, and fought hard during his recovery. The airman's strength allowed his family to have a bedside 31st birthday celebration on June 27.

"He again had many visitors and many gifts," the family posted on June 30. "One of the nurses that has been working with gave him a bottle of Kahlua and a bag of Oreos. We all know how much Dave liked his Oreos."

On July 2 at 10:12 p.m., Capt. David Wisniewski succumbed in Maryland to the catastrophic injuries he suffered half a world away. For three weeks, he gave his family, friends, and fellow troops time to hope, pray, reflect, and appreciate his extraordinary life.

"He passed away peacefully and is with the good Lord taking excellent golf lessons from the greatest golfer ever," the family wrote on Friday evening. Thank you all for the prayers we have all received during this trying time."

According to the United States Air Force, Capt. Wisniewski will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Back home in Iowa, Gov. Chet Culver paused on July 4 to salute the fallen hero.

"On this Independence Day, the news that another young person has died serving our country is a powerful reminder of the cost of our freedoms," Gov. Culver said. "I am deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Capt. Wisniewski, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones."

This tragic helicopter crash, which has deeply affected the Air Force, will forever alter the Wisniewski, Flores, Gentz, Smith, and White families. We pray for them, while hoping Capt. Simone and Tech Sgt. Aguilera make full recoveries from their wounds. These men saved an immeasurable amount of Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans during their distinguished military careers, proving that words like "hero" can never be overused when talking about our valiant troops. They died so others could live, and we are grateful.