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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Royal We

Image courtesy: Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell

So far in 2011, hype surrounding the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has probably attracted more media attention than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. As this British ceremony is force-fed to us by a ratings-hungry American press, perhaps we can take a moment to notice a ceremony of far greater consequence.

On April 11, Gen. David Petraeus visited Forward Operating Base Joyce in eastern Afghanistan. He was there to thank the battle-hardened soldiers of Task Force No Slack, who, along with so many other brothers and sisters of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), have made an incalculable number of sacrifices on America's post-9/11 battlefields.

The Afghanistan War commander specifically wanted to shake the hands of Capt. Edward Bankston and Sgt. Joshua Bostic. During several chaotic firefights, beginning on March 28, these valiant warriors helped overcome hundreds of insurgents, a blinding snowstorm and the painful loss of six fellow soldiers to defeat Taliban forces in the area.

"They're all heroes," Tony Berry told The Unknown Soldiers. "They all did the same job; some made it home and some didn't."

As you may have read in last week's column, Berry's stepson, Pfc. Jeremy Faulkner, was one of six Screaming Eagles to not make it home from the eastern Afghanistan mission. In an emotional April 9 ceremony at Faulkner's Jonesboro, Ga., church, I had the honor of witnessing the soldier's Bronze Star being presented to his grieving family.

When Bankston and Bostic both received the Silver Star from Petraeus, with Afghanistan's deadly mountains as a backdrop, the emotions were overwhelming.

"I would trade all the medals to get our lost guys back," Bankston, who is from Decatur, Ga., reportedly said at the ceremony.

An article by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, who is doing incredibly valuable work by reporting for the Army from the front lines, explains how Bankston and Bostic earned our nation's third-highest military decoration.

Bankston, who was shot in the leg earlier in his third and current combat deployment, rallied fellow troops amid booming machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade fire, which tragically killed several soldiers among them.

"The way I look at it is that I was walking in the footsteps of heroes throughout the mission, so I was covered," Bankston said.

Burrell also reports that Bostic refused to leave the mission to seek medical care after he was wounded trying to pull one of his fellow paratroopers, who later died, to safety.

"I know the other guys would do the same for me," Bostic, who is from Spring City, Tenn., said. "It really wasn't a thought."

Petraeus has traveled all over Iraq and Afghanistan to personally attend these important ceremonies. He believes that if battlefield heroism goes unnoticed within the military and in the general public, then the contributions of this "new greatest generation" — as the general calls those to step up since Sept. 11, 2001 — will be forgotten.

"There's such a pace of operations, there's such a high tempo, that the last thing that our great soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines out there want to do when they come back from a mission is write each other up for awards," Petraeus said in October. "But we need to do that better, we need to capture the history of our operations better."

Every facet of this British royal wedding, from gowns and flowers to guest lists and gossip, is being captured by American journalists. For many weeks, our television, computer and smartphone screens have been filled with information that has absolutely no relevance to our daily lives, as ceremonies honoring men and women who protect us are almost completely ignored.

We don't need to watch a royal wedding in London to find heroes. Instead, we can do a better job noticing events like the one our media failed to capture in eastern Afghanistan, and line the streets of American cities when our heroes return home.


A heavy heart

On the evening of April 29 at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., The Unknown Soldiers won a MilBloggie Award for best military blog run by a U.S. Reporter. My sincere thanks to everyone for voting, and for continuing to support this blog.

I also want to urge everyone to follow the fine blogs that were nominated in the same category, all of which are worthy of this year's award: War On Terror News, The Long War Journal, Michael Yon Online Magazine, The War Report, The Rumor Doctor, and Susan Katz Keating.

Considering that many of the stories you read on this blog and in my weekly Creators Syndicate column are about brave American service members who made the ultimate sacrifice, I accept this award with a heavy heart. While I am unable to attend the 6th Annual MILBlog Conference due to obligations related to family and a new job with the USO, I sent in the following acceptance remarks, which I thought I would share here.

Acceptance remarks:

It's been one year since I had the honor of standing in front of you to accept a Milbloggie on behalf of The Unknown Soldiers blog. I regret that because of a new job at the USO here in Arlington, with a new baby back in the Atlanta area, this period of transition and frequent travel made it impossible to attend this year's conference. Thank you so much for this award, and congratulations to all the other U.S. Reporter nominees, all of whom run amazing blogs.

Writing about the personal stories of our brave troops, honorable veterans, and their devoted families is a privilege, especially for a career journalist who hasn't served in the military. While hundreds of articles I worked on for my blog and Creators Syndicate newspaper column over the past year have stayed with me, there is one in particular that's on my mind tonight.

Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter was shot by a sniper in Afghanistan on Valentine's Day. Five days later, the Marine's wife, Crissie, had to make the crushing decision to remove her husband from life support. Because she was eight months pregnant at the time, she could not travel to Germany to say goodbye to the love of her life.

After an emotional February 28 memorial to honor this Marine, I drove through the city of Columbia, Tennessee, as part of the procession to the cemetery. What I saw that day would give everyone at this conference hope. Thousands of people -- from young children to the elderly -- stood in the evening mist with hands on their hearts in tribute to this fallen hero. In an age where celebrity is often placed over sacrifice by our nation's media, the people of Tennessee showed us that real patriotism still exists.

Crissie Carpenter told me that while the pain was still unbearable, what she saw that day helped her get through the next month. On March 18, Landon Paul Carpenter entered the world his father left as a hero. In the hospital, a nurse gave baby Landon a onesie that reads "Born Free...Because My Daddy Fought For Me."

I think we do what we do to ensure that children like Landon grow up knowing that their moms and dads are heroes. To receive this honor from you, especially since so many military bloggers are American troops, veterans, or members of military families, is something I treasure. Thank you, and may God bless our men and women in uniform, their loved ones, and especially their kids.

Image courtesy: Marcia Truitt/Inara Studios

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The only thing I like about airplanes

The fourth post in this blog's history was called 'The only thing I like about airports,' which conveyed my pride as an American in seeing so many U.S. troops walk through terminals. Eighteen months later, after witnessing the kindness of airline employees toward men and women in uniform dealing with the stress of a delayed flight, it's time for Part II.

I am on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, a city dealing with deadly tornadoes that ravaged parts of the South throughout the day on Wednesday. Three uniformed active duty service members, two soldiers and one airman, are also in business class, with a fourth warrior on the way. After noticing an empty seat in this section, our flight attendant asked the soldier in front of me if he knows of any other troops on the plane. He said there is one service member toward the back who isn't wearing his uniform.

"I want him sitting up here," the flight attendant responded with a grin.

I am only seated up here because of a frequent flier program. The brave men and women in uniform beside me are relaxing in business class because they deserve it.

The AirTran Airways flight attendants on this plane are showing kindness that all airline employees, and all Americans, should show to the people who protect us. The lone fact that someone can post on his or her blog from a plane is a tribute to the sacrifices our troops have made since four airplanes were hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, placing the future of American air travel in doubt.

If there are any senior military officers reading this post, you need not worry, as these fine troops have all turned down the free alcoholic beverages. I am honored to a raise my glass to these American heroes, as well as the flight attendants who lifted their spirits on this stormy night.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Amazing Grace

Image courtesy: U.S. Army

While listening to the haunting bagpipes of "Amazing Grace" during an April 9 memorial service honoring Pfc. Jeremy Faulkner in Jonesboro, Ga., I realized I had no idea what the 1779 song's famous lyrics, written by John Newton, actually meant. Faulkner's pastor, family, friends and fellow soldiers, who filled the huge church to capacity, helped clarify the beloved hymn's resonance.

"With a hail of fire all around him, Jeremy saw amazing grace," Rev. Ron Little said.

On March 29, Faulkner, 23, was one of six Task Force No Slack warriors of the storied 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to die fighting for our country in Afghanistan's Kunar province. Also killed were Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28; Staff Sgt. Frank Adamski III, 26; Staff Sgt. Bryan Burgess, 29; Spc. Dustin Feldhaus, 20; and Spc. Jameson Lindskog, 23.

"Our enemy had grown too large, too bold, too capable to ignore any longer," Lt. Col. Joel Vowell, Task Force No Slack commander, told grieving soldiers in a dramatic eastern Afghanistan speech delivered the same day one of their own was laid to rest in Georgia. "Task Force No Slack met that challenge, and we destroyed and killed over 130 insurgent fighters and wounded scores of others in our biggest battle since Vietnam."

As I learned at Tara Baptist Church, Faulkner began training for his defining moment as a little boy.

"Little Jeremy used to play Army in the yard," Little said, prompting rare smiles from the devastated audience.

Tony Berry, Faulkner's stepfather, knew "Remy," as many loved ones and buddies called him, since the future soldier was 11.

"He was one of those types of kids that made you mad one minute, but the next, he'd have you laughing," Berry told The Unknown Soldiers. "He loved being outside and camping, so he adjusted to Army life real quick."

Like so many U.S. troops, Faulkner developed an unbreakable attachment to his brothers and sisters in arms. Berry said he spoke to three soldiers from his stepson's unit at the memorial service.

"It's a bond that we can never know, unless you've been over there to share in it with those guys," Berry explained. "When one passes, the other one feels guilty, and they wish it was them."

Quotes from warriors who went into the fire with Faulkner on that treacherous day in Afghanistan were read aloud at the service.

"He was a very special person in my life," one mourning soldier said. "He could make everyone laugh and smile, even in the worst situations."

It doesn't get much worse than the ferocious battle that killed Faulkner and five fellow comrades and left many more wounded. Many casualties of those chaotic moments were just weeks from finishing their Afghanistan deployments.

"It's quite a shock to us," Berry said. "Being that close to coming home is just tragic."

In one of the service's most poignant moments, the fallen hero's mother, Judy Berry, and father, Joel Faulkner, were presented the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, awarded to their son posthumously.

The momentous events of March 29 in eastern Afghanistan received nowhere near the level of deserved attention from the national media. For too long, the public has languished in the darkness during the daily victories and struggles of America's post-9/11 conflicts, which marks a great injustice to those who serve and sacrifice.

"Our job is not over after today," Little reminded mourners at the service's conclusion.

Families of the fallen, as well as those wounded or suffering from the incalculable psychological toll of war, need more than our sympathy. They need — and merit — our constant focus.

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died," said renowned tough-as-nails Gen. George S. Patton, whose quote was read aloud at the service. "Rather, we should thank God that such men lived."

The grace shown by Pfc. Jeremy P. Faulkner and his fellow troops, who volunteered to serve during a time of genuine peril, is truly amazing.

"I'm going," the brave soldier said before heading off to war. "But if the worst happens, I know where I'm going."

Was blind, but now I see.


Image courtesy: Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Image courtesy: U.S. Army

If you've seen the 1993 film "Rudy," based on a true story about a gutsy, undersized Notre Dame practice squad player who is carried off the field as a hero after the only game of his college football career, you probably haven't forgotten this scene.

"Rudy, are you ready for this, champ?" a teammate asks in the tunnel before the big game.

"I've been ready for this my whole life," Rudy responds.

"Then you take us out on the field," the player says.

On March 19, a different Rudy who once played football, Spc. Rudy Acosta, was asked by his sergeant to join him for an important mission on the treacherous battlefields of Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Acosta, a 19-year-old Army medic who loved his job, had his eye on eventually practicing medicine back home in Canyon Country, Calif., after serving his country.

"Instead of putting on a Band-Aid, he would really treat a wound," the soldier's father, Dante Acosta, told The Unknown Soldiers. "He'd really take the time to make sure a person was in good shape. That just spoke to his faith."

Rudy, nearing the end of his first combat deployment, also had faith in the Afghan people.

"His sergeant told me that when Rudy would help the Afghans they came across, he looked at them as people in need, not as potential enemies," his dad said.

By all accounts, Acosta was focused on his March 19 mission. Amid the relative calm of his base, he was also cracking jokes with a fellow soldier as they cleaned their weapons before heading into battle. Then, the battle came to Acosta and his friends.

"One of the guards walked past them, turned around from the hip and just started shooting," Rudy's father said. "I'm told that this guy was hired about nine or ten days prior. His intent all along was probably to hit as many soldiers as possible."

The terrorist, who reportedly infiltrated the base by working on it as a contractor, killed Rudy and a fellow soldier, Cpl. Donald Mickler, 29, before U.S. troops killed him. The tragic incident is under investigation. Four Americans were injured, including the soldier Acosta was kidding around with before a hail of bullets turned their laughter into screams.

Rudy's father spoke with his son's wounded comrade the night before our conversation.

"He has some movement in his toes, but there is nerve damage; this guy shot him up pretty good," Dante said. "This kind of thing is just terrible ... this kind of guy can't be armed on our bases."

The grieving father, while outraged by the way his son and Mickler died, spoke peacefully about Rudy's love for his parents, siblings, friends and God, as well as his decision to join the military.

"I felt very proud, and as a father, I was very nervous," Dante said. "He wanted to become a medic, and when he said he wouldn't settle for anything else, they let him."

Rudy, still a teenager, never let the hardening of his Army-strong biceps trump his sense of compassion.

"The last Sunday he was here, he left a note with one of our church's pastors," his dad said. "It does not say 'pray for me'; it says 'pray for the Afghan people' and 'pray for our soldiers.'"

Despite the cruel irony of his son dying at the hands of an Afghan terrorist disguised as a friend, Dante's patriotism and respect for the military is unflinching.

"I get choked up when I see the flag," he said. "I know — and now I really know — the sacrifice that has went on."

Between two packed Santa Clarita Baptist Church services, which many troops in Afghanistan watched online, and supporters lining Southern California streets, tens of thousands have paid their respects to Spc. Rudy Acosta, who never got his chance to take the field on March 19.

Chants of "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy," echo through the hit sports film's final scene as teammates carry their hero back into the tunnel. On March 20 at Delaware's Dover Air Force Base, fellow soldiers carried a real hero back onto American soil. The same chants echoed from the heavens.

Take us out on the field, Rudy.


Image courtesy: U.S. Air Force/Jason Minto

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding Katie

Image courtesy: USO/Fred Greaves

After attending Wednesday’s rehearsal of the Sesame Street/USO Military Family Experience kickoff event in Columbus, Ohio, I was thinking about the genius of the Sesame Street developers who created ‘Katie,’ the new character who tells Elmo during the program that her military family has to move, once again, to another base.

Since the character says so much about what children of our service members have endured since September 11, 2001, I set out at Thursday’s event to find a real ’Katie,’ who is living the story that Sesame Street has so vividly created for military kids, as well as children who may not realize why some of their friends have to move away. After about 90 minutes of searching inside the Franklin County Veterans Memorial auditorium, I came across little Isabella Haas.

As Isabella awaited the appearance of her favorite Sesame character, Elmo, her father, Army Maj. John Haas, told me that she had just celebrated her third birthday the day before the special performance in Columbus. Maj. Haas and his wife, Dawnann, also planned on enjoying the day with their daughter, because soon, the soldier will be headed to Afghanistan, where he will spend 270 days apart from his little girl.

When I asked Maj. Haas what it will be like spending so much time away from his wife and child, he visibly shuddered, graciously deferring to his spouse to answer a very emotional question.

Note: Click here to read the full story on the USO blog.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More than words

Image courtesy: Marcia Truitt/Inara Studios

Landon Carpenter was born on March 18. His father, Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter, was shot in Afghanistan on Valentine's Day and died on February 19, less than a month before the Marine's widow, Crissie, gave birth to their first child.

This may be the shortest post I've put up on this blog. Yet the devastating, moving photo above says things far more valuable than any words I could come up with about America's post-9/11 conflicts, the impact on military families, and what our brave men and women in uniform are fighting for every day.

Landon's father did a noble thing by dying for his country. But he also died for the little boy he never got a chance to meet on earth. Hopefully, when Landon Carpenter becomes a man, there won't be any need for him to fight.

Note: Contributions to "Landon's Fund" can be made at any Regions Bank in middle Tennessee.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

American Women

Image courtesy: Sgt. Jeremy Crisp

After becoming the first female soldier since World War II to be awarded the Silver Star, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester was asked about the historic nature of her achievement.

"It really doesn't have anything to do with being a female," the humble hero told the American Forces Press Service in 2005. "It's about the duties I performed that day as a soldier."

Hester, now a police officer in Tennessee who recently re-enlisted in the Army National Guard, was only 23 years old when terrorists ambushed her convoy on Mar. 20, 2005 in Iraq.

After several soldiers in her military police unit suffered gunshot wounds, Hester, along with Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein, later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and Sgt. Jason Mike, later awarded the Silver Star, bravely charged out of their Humvees. The soldiers, putting themselves between the enemy and their exposed convoy, led a ferocious counterattack that killed 27 insurgents and led to the capture of seven more.

While Hester's remarkable story is one of the most prominent examples of post-9/11 heroism by a woman, many more should also touch the heart of a nation that often holds up actresses, singers and models as examples of women at the pinnacle of American society.

Spc. Faith Hinkley, 23, was excited about her upcoming return home when a rocket struck the Iraqi office building she was working inside on Aug. 7, 2010. The former high school cheerleader, who volunteered to leave her loved ones behind and serve our nation, returned home to Colorado in a flag-draped casket.

"As a soldier, she died fighting for our country," Chelsea Bowsher-Venable wrote to me four days after her best friend's death. "But through her passing, I know she will save so many lives just by inspiring others through her goodness, selflessness, and sincerity."

Sgt. Trista Moretti started Army basic training on June 12, 2003, less than three months after the invasion of Iraq. In a true act of bravery, she re-enlisted in 2005, one the conflict's toughest years, fully aware that a deployment was probably on the horizon. Moretti, who was known for her distinctive laugh and relentless pursuit of adventure, was killed in Iraq on June 25, 2007.

"I would have chosen Trista above almost all other soldiers I had the pleasure of serving with in the Army, to be the one watching my back in a foxhole," Austin Goodman posted on Facebook last month. "She was an awesome soldier, was hard to keep up with in physical training, and she had a huge heart."

While walking through Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 21, 2010, I noticed a particularly striking headstone inscription:

"Be bold, be brief, be gone."

It was the grave of Maj. Megan McClung, who I later learned was the highest-ranking female U.S. Marine to be killed in the Iraq war, and the first female U.S. Naval Academy graduate to die in combat.

The motto on her headstone, which embodied how McClung lived for 34 years, has guided me every day since. Her father, who also served in the Marines, told me about something he learned in the years following his daughter's Dec. 6, 2006 death that inspires him.

"Another indication of how Meg touched so many lives are the seven little girls running around now who were named after her," Mike McClung said in a Jan. 23, 2010 e-mail. "In at least one case (and maybe more), the wife did know Meg. I can just imagine the scene when the husband says 'honey, I would like us to name our daughter (after) a girl I once knew.'"

When Lt. Gen. John Vines awarded Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and her fellow soldiers their medals in 2005, he said something that resonates six years later.

"My heroes don't play in the NBA and don't play in the U.S. Open," the general said. "They're standing in front of me today."

As my daughter grows up, she will not hear talk at the dinner table about Snooki, Britney, Paris or Lindsay. She will instead hear names like Leigh Ann, Faith, Trista and Megan.


Note: A correction was appended to this article. Maj. Megan McClung is the highest-ranking female Marine to be killed in the Iraq war, not the first female Marine to lose her life in the conflict.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Long Way Home

Images courtesy: Digital Diamonds Photography, Clarksville, Tenn.

"This may be the highlight of this game," Fox Sports announcer Dick Stockton said after Sgt. Mark Foster stunned his wife, daughter and country with a surprise return from Afghanistan on the 20-yard-line of an NFL football stadium. During the Washington Redskins-Tennessee Titans game on Nov. 20, 2010, millions watched a tearful family embrace, filling their television screens with the raw emotions of war.

As the initial shock began to subside in the stands of Nashville's LP Field, the 101st Airborne Division paratrooper's spouse, Jodi, asked a dreaded question.

"When do you have to go back?"

Sgt. Foster, 38, hated having to tell his wife and youngest child that not long after Thanksgiving, he'd be back in a war zone.

"My 12-year-old daughter, Kayla, put it best — (rest and recuperation) kind of sucks when you're deployed," Mark told The Unknown Soldiers. "You have to go back and miss your family all over again."

Foster's feisty wife, who jokingly chastised her Army husband during our conversation for not doing enough laundry while he was home, wholeheartedly agreed.

"It was really hard," Jodi, 33, recalled. "It's almost like they tease you with R&R — they dangle him being home in front of you."

The sergeant had already been through four combat tours in Iraq, but the last 12 weeks of his first deployment to Afghanistan, after returning from his surprise trip home, were among the most difficult of his life.

"It was probably the longest three months I've ever spent, although they're always longer after leave," Mark said. "It was rough, it was cold and it snowed a lot."

On March 10, Jodi and three anxious kids stood near the Tennessee-Kentucky border at Fort Campbell, waiting for the first glimpse of a returning hero and his brothers in arms. This time, the family would reunite on an Army airfield instead of a football field, but there was still a minor surprise in store for the soldier's wife.

"I didn't recognize him at first because he lost so much weight over there," Jodi admitted. "The last few minutes waiting to get to hug him were tough, but it's great having him home."

As a career journalist who has never served in the military, I naively asked the soldier how he was enjoying his time off. The sergeant told me he went back to work at 5:30 a.m. the day after getting home.

"When we come back, there is a mandatory reintegration period," Mark explained. "But it's only a few hours a day, and then you get to come home and spend time with your family."

I asked the soldier how he is doing emotionally after his fifth overseas deployment in support of America's post-9/11 missions. Foster told me that loud noises and large groups of people make him uncomfortable.

"I'll be honest — the hardest part is going to work and still not having peace and quiet," Mark said. "It's nice to just play a video game or watch a movie without having anyone, even the kids, running around. That's the most overwhelming thing because I'm just not used to it."

Like so many military families around the nation, the Fosters are either dealing with being apart or moving around together. In the fall, they will transition from Fort Campbell to Fort Hood, a massive Army post about an hour from Austin, Texas.

"It's been an adjustment for all of us," Jodi said. "You get into a routine, and then you have to change the routine."

Sgt. Mark Foster, who struck me with his up-front, no-nonsense demeanor during our November and March conversations, said it's critical for a nation fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Libya, to comprehend war's impact on hundreds of thousands of American families.

"It's kind of like they get stuck holding the bag," the soldier said. "People have got to understand that when we leave, it's not necessarily because we want to. It's because we have to."


Friday, April 1, 2011

Right now

File image courtesy: Sgt. Richard Rzepka

"We are not at war," a veteran who served in the Army for eight years told me Wednesday in Maryland. "Only some of us are."

I wasn't initially sure how to feel about that statement. The painful events of the next 48 hours showed that he was on to something.

Beginning at about 10 p.m. eastern on the night of March 30, casualty notices from the Pentagon began filling my inbox. In all, at least six U.S. soldiers, all serving with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based out of Kentucky's Fort Campbell, were killed on March 29 in Afghanistan's Konar province. The families of the fallen have been in my thoughts and prayers ever since the e-mails started pouring in.

When I mentioned this last night on The Unknown Soldiers Facebook page, the online community, while universally supportive of our troops and their families, also demanded answers from the national press.

"Not one thing was mentioned by the media," one fan wrote, as another asked: "Why have we not heard of this?"

Outside of an Associated Press wire write-up and a very short CNN wire article, the national media has all but missed another major story from Afghanistan. Fighting is clearly heating up on the eastern front, and remains heavy in the south. But the conflict in Libya is "newer," giving news executives an excuse to focus on Libya in the pursuit of ratings, ignoring the ongoing struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The lives of all six men killed on Tuesday demand more attention at the national level, as their stories, being told almost entirely by small local TV stations and newspapers, show us.

Staff Sgt. Bryan Burgess, 29, Cleburne, Texas

Staff Sgt. Burgess had a wife and two children, and was in the middle of his third combat tour, having served in Iraq twice, according to The Cleburne Times Review. Before leaving for what would be his final deployment, Burgess sat down with his kids and showed them a map of Afghanistan.

"There were camels all over the map and when he would call, he would tell them that he had been busy with his [troops] chasing the camels," the fallen hero's mother, Linda Pearce, told the newspaper. "I thought he was serious, but it wasn’t camels he was talking about. It was his way of talking to the children about the fighting."

Pfc. Dustin Feldhaus, 20, Glendale, Arizona

Pfc. Feldhaus was gravely wounded alongside Staff Sgt. Burgess, and both later died at Bagram Airfield. KNXV-TV in Phoenix reports that Feldhaus was proud of his military service.

"He would fight for his country and he would die for his country," high school teacher Tari Stanford told the station. "That's the kind of guy he was."

Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28, Hialeah, Florida

This brief WTVJ-TV article shows Sgt. 1st Class Arrechaga with his beautiful wife, Seana. According to The Fort Campbell Courier, the couple has a son and daughter. Arrechaga, an infantryman who joined the military seven months before the 9/11 attacks, was awarded the Bronze Star for his uncommon valor.

Staff Sgt. Frank Adamski III, 26, Moosup, Connecticut

The Day in New London, Conn., reports that Staff Sgt. Adamski is survived by his wife, Danielle, and their one-year-old daughter. His death has stunned the community, while also illuminating the incredible patriotism of a hometown hero.

"He simply had a love for life and a passion for whatever he was doing," high school football coach Patrick Smith told the paper. "In high school it was playing football, studying and making friends. Later on it was his dedication to the military."

Spc. Jameson Lindskog, 23, Pleasanton, California

Reading a family account of the death of Spc. Lindskog, who was killed in the same incident that took the lives of Sgt. 1st Class Arrechaga and Staff Sgt. Adamski, felt like a punch in the stomach and brought tears to my eyes. The soldier's mother, Donna Walker, told The Contra Costa Times that her son, a combat medic, was caring for the wounded when he was shot and killed.

"Jameson, as a medic, went to help others," the devastated mom told the newspaper.

This disgraceful, tragic attack reminds us who we are fighting in Afghanistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda are savage butchers who murder children, enslave women, and shoot at medics on the battlefield.

Pvt. Jeremy Faulkner, 23, Griffin, Georgia

WAGA-TV in Atlanta reports that Pvt. Faulkner was excited to return home in a few weeks to meet his recently born nephew. On Thursday, his family made the tragic journey to Delaware's Dover Air Force Base for his dignified transfer ceremony.

"He was so sweet in high school," Jessica Miller posted in a Facebook tribute group dedicated to Faulkner. "He was always smiling everytime I [saw] him in JROTC class. He will be greatly missed!"

Are we a nation at war? I still believe the answer is yes. Yet we are also a nation at a crossroads. We cannot think about war only when it's convenient or when someone from our town is killed. To stand by as this pattern develops not only dishonors the brave men and women volunteering to fight, but puts at risk everything they fight for.

To me, being a nation at war means uniting behind our troops and paying attention to their sacrifices. The time for America to do both is now.

Images courtesy: U.S. Army