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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Deadly Ground

Images courtesy: Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane

During every step American warriors take through Afghanistan's rugged post-9/11 battlefields, the ground beneath their boots is inundated with the unknown.

Instead of fighting our superior troops head on, most of America's enemies bury bombs underground or even under piles of trash. These crude, deadly improvised explosive devices target Americans and Afghans alike, and have killed countless people, including innocent children.

August 2011 was the deadliest month of the entire war in Afghanistan for U.S. troops. As you know from reading this blog, the impact of each service member's death is staggering; from grieving husbands, wives, children, siblings, and friends at home to devastated brothers and sisters in arms still serving overseas. As these good people cope with the sharp knife of their loved ones' short lives, we cannot say enough prayers for those shouldering the heaviest price of war.

Despite an August of unprecedented pain for our military in Afghanistan, our troops still serving there are not dead men walking. They are driven, determined men and women who feel each and every ultimate sacrifice deep inside their heroic hearts. There is no bottle to store the time they have spent away from their families, nor is there is a pill to cure what our military has endured every single day since terrorists attacked our homeland on September 11, 2001.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are terrorist organizations full of faceless cowards. Their foot soldiers wear no uniforms and fight for no cause other than to brainwash, murder, and terrorize. Therefore, when an explosive ordnance disposal technician tells me that he or she disabled an improvised explosive device planted near an Afghan school, I view that as a great victory for our military, America, and the world.
It is impossible to measure how many future Afghan leaders have been saved by our military, which at the same time, hunts terrorists with relentless force and unmatched skill.

As I type this post on board a commercial jet, my sadness is mixed with pride. Nothing can ever prepare you for looking into the eyes of a mother who has lost a son or daughter, and I know I will eventually speak with some military moms who will never forget the tragic month of August 2011.

At the same time, I am enormously grateful to live in a country where despite a decade of tragedy, our troops and military families are still ready and willing to fight. No human being is perfect, but in my view, many of our men and women in uniform do things that define the word.

To those who have served and are serving: thank you for keeping my family safe. It is impossible to repay you for your selfless commitment to freedom and the flag.

To those who have lost a love one: thank you for your unparalleled strength. While you never wanted the Gold Star your family has earned, it symbolizes what we all wish on while gazing into the night skies as children. Your hero is our hero, and a grateful nation stands ready to help your family in a time of unimaginable trial.

Right now -- at this very second -- U.S. troops are walking, running, and driving through the mountains, deserts, roads, and dirt paths of Afghanistan. God, please bless the ground beneath them.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Guarding the Unknown

Image courtesy: U.S. Army

Even during a Category 1 hurricane, the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery is guarded by a brave American soldier.

The caption for the above photo, which was taken on Saturday and released by the U.S. Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), notes that since April 6, 1948, Tomb Sentinels have stood guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns for "every second of every day." Unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War rest beneath the sacred spot.

While we hope and pray for everyone's safety during Hurricane Irene, even as the national media sensationalizes the story, I have a feeling that the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns will be just fine. After all, they know that at this very moment, their brothers and sisters in arms are risking their lives for our freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Like al Qaeda and the Taliban, Hurricane Irene is no match for the United States military.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Driving Over Bombs

File image courtesy: Sgt. Michael Armstrong

It's easy to complain about heavy traffic congestion that clogs roadways around so many American cities. The next time you're about to pound on the steering wheel, however, be thankful that part of your job doesn't involve driving over bombs.

From to 2006 to 2007, Sgt. Jacob Probst was driving a "Husky" mine detection vehicle around an incredibly dangerous part of Iraq.

"That was just absolutely amazing," Sgt. Probst told The Unknown Soldiers. "We got to see Anbar province, Iraq, go from literally the worst place in the world to being the light for Iraq."

When the Army reservist arrived in western Iraq, the war had reached an absolutely critical phase. Terrorists in Anbar Province were threatening to change the course of the entire bloody conflict, as al Qaeda wantonly murdered troops and civilians throughout the region.

On Sept. 1, 2008, the U.S. military formally transferred Anbar Province to the Iraqi government, which would have been unthinkable just two years earlier. While violence in Iraq did not end with the handover and the conflict continues to this day, Probst, who is too humble to take any credit, knows he and his fellow troops helped change the course of history.

"It all started shifting while we were there," the soldier said.

When asked what Iraq was like when his deployment started, Probst, speaking by phone from Wisconsin's Fort McCoy, let out a sigh so deep it was louder than the machine gun fire from training in the background. "Iraq 2006," he said in jest, before a serious pause.

"My job, specifically, was to drive over a bomb," Probst continued. "You're driving about two or three miles an hour on the side of a road or on a road, and I have a metal detector mounted on my vehicle, basically right underneath me."

With a naked eye, Probst tried to spot improvised explosive devices, the leading killer of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, under intense pressure, he would listen for a buzzing sound from his vehicle's metal detector.

"Then you basically stop, back up, and pinpoint exactly where you got the hit on the metal detector and spray paint the bomb," he said.

After explosive ordnance disposal technicians eventually blew up the terrorist-planted device, either on-site or in a secure location, Probst would go back to his base with an incredible feeling.

"If you found even one, that's at least three Marines' lives saved, because we worked with the Marines almost exclusively over there," he said. "But then also, you always kind of forget that the Iraqis — they got hit with IEDs almost all the time too."

A native of Watertown, Wis., Probst joined the Army Reserve after high school — when the United States was in the midst of two wars. The soldier admits that despite knowing the risks, he wasn't exactly sure what was coming next.

"I wanted to go to school, but I felt like I could serve my country," Probst said. "I didn't know exactly where that would lead me."

Today, with memories of a year driving over bombs, Probst is enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he is pursuing a degree in high school special education. I spoke to Probst in the middle of the Army's "Best Warrior Competition," which pits soldiers against one another in everything from academics and athletics to being able to perform under the pressure of battle or without sleep.

Sgt. Jacob Probst still enjoys the challenges of the military and says he feels very fortunate to be home safely, pursuing his dreams with a wife of three years.

"I'd love to have some kids," he said with an audible smile.

In a difficult economy, those of us who have jobs to go to each morning are lucky. But before we grumble about choking traffic and high gas prices, we should also feel fortunate that we don't have to worry about bombs being buried beneath the road.

The valiant men and women of the U.S. military, serving with honor in Afghanistan and Iraq at this very moment, make life at home a lot less complicated.


Image courtesy: Spc. True Thao

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stand By Them

Image courtesy: Pfc. Sean Dennison

During a deadly, tragic summer in Afghanistan, where we stand on the war politically is irrelevant. All that matters is standing beside our troops and their families as they shoulder the heaviest burdens of America's longest war.

Cpl. Zachary Mills, 22, is an ordnance technician with Marine Attack Squadron 513, stationed in Kandahar. His job is to arm Harriers, the groundbreaking military jets capable of lifting off vertically without forward speed.

It was 6:30 a.m. Kandahar time when Cpl. Mills spoke via satellite phone to The Unknown Soldiers, and the temperature outside a hangar where the Marine usually works was already creeping toward 100 degrees. When asked how he copes with doing a difficult job amid unrelenting heat similar to conditions inside a furnace, he shrugged off the question.

"I just drink a lot of water, I guess," the Orlando, Fla., native told The Unknown Soldiers. "I'm normally stationed out in Yuma (Az.), so this is not bad at all."

Mills was fully aware of the risks involved when he joined the military in January 2008. More than three and a half years later, he is deployed to one of the world's most dangerous regions. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq both continue, the proud Marine said he has no regrets about his decision to enlist.

"I basically wanted to better myself," Mills explained, "and I thought the military would be the right way to serve your country. I think that's a very important thing, especially during these times."

With this summer shaping up to be the deadliest of the entire Afghanistan conflict, which has lasted almost a decade, Mills said spirits in the war zone are in fact very high.

"Morale is good," he said. "Once you get (Marines) in gear, it motivates them to work hard."

Capt. Pete Hegseth is an Army National Guardsman currently deployed to Kabul, where he is an instructor at a counterinsurgency training center. The soldier, who has also deployed to Iraq, said he becomes exasperated when media pundits inside air-conditioned newsrooms suggest that because of increased risk, the military is tired or unwilling to fight.

"This 'talk' is a complete misnomer," Capt. Hegseth said in an email from Afghanistan to The Unknown Soldiers. "Troops are here because they want to be here, and we believe in what we're doing."

Hegseth, 31, knows first-hand about the strains of multiple deployments. Coupled with the visible and invisible wounds of war, these issues are very serious concerns for U.S. troops, veterans and military families. But according to Hegseth, challenges should not be mistaken for weariness.

"We're not 'tired,'" Hegseth, the former executive director of Vets for Freedom, an organization committed to victory in Afghanistan and Iraq, wrote. "We're savvy, committed, war-tested, and more experienced than ever. America's military today is the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen, and the only way we will 'break' our military is if we don't give it the resources it needs to fight and support it needs to win."

Hegseth's steadfast belief in America's post-9/11 mission in Afghanistan doesn't mean this summer has been easy.

"Yes, it's tough," the soldier wrote. "And yes, it's hard to be away from family."

Before Hegseth's latest combat deployment, the soldier and his wife welcomed their first child, a son who is now 13 months old. Hegseth said he misses his little boy tremendously and worries about his wife, who must spend a year raising their child on her own.

Yet because of his soul mate's support and strength, as well as the opportunity to see his son via Skype, Hegseth remembers what he is fighting for.

"I'm able to talk to her regularly and see my little son grow up," Hegseth wrote. "He sees me on the computer, lunges for the screen, and says 'Dada.'

"It melts my heart and reminds me why I'm doing this," the soldier continued. "(It's) for them and for the simple joys that all Americans cherish."

At this hour, as more flag-draped caskets come home from the battlefield, our brave men and women in uniform are standing guard around the world. No matter how difficult, we must set aside our differences and stand by them, even from half a world away.


Image courtesy: Hegseth family

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hard Knocks

File image courtesy: Cpl. Jad Sleiman

When news reached the United States on August 6 that 30 American troops had been killed in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan's Wardak province, my first thought was not about politics or wartime strategy. It was about the 30 American families who would receive knocks on their doors from military messengers in the tragic days to follow.

While writing this weekly column and running the Unknown Soldiers blog, I have had the honor and privilege of speaking with family members who bravely recounted the moment that every military family dreads.

"I don't know that there's anything that can mentally prepare you," said Patrick Callahan, who lost his son, Marine Sgt. Sean Callahan, 23, in Afghanistan on Apr. 23. "You can't be. When they notified us, I was cooking some dinner for my daughter, who was having some friends over."

The messengers who delicately deliver this earth-shattering news do a job that almost nobody wants. Yet during every interview I've conducted with families of the fallen, grieving parents and spouses have expressed nothing but compassion for the men and women in uniform who told them that their hero was killed overseas.

"The casualty assistance officers who came to the house were extremely good and extremely nice," Callahan said. "We're still interacting with one of them and will be for months."

Lona Parten lost her oldest son, Army 1st Lt. Tyler Parten, 24, in Afghanistan on Sept. 10, 2009. Sitting across from the grieving mother at a Birmingham, Ala., restaurant, I could see the moment that changed her life while looking into her tearful eyes. The knock on the door still haunts the military mom, especially with a possible combat deployment on the horizon for her youngest son.

"How will I sleep?" she asked. "How will I deal with the phone ringing or knocks at the door?"

Donna Walker didn't know that her son, Army Spc. Jameson Lindskog, 23, was out on his first-ever combat mission until there was a knock on the door of her California home. But after not hearing from her son for two weeks, she sensed that he might be in danger shortly before his Mar. 29 death in Afghanistan.

"I knew something was going on," Walker told me. "But it was a complete shock, because it was the first time he was ever out."

Dante Acosta's son, Spc. Rudy Acosta, 19, was murdered in Afghanistan on March 19 when a terrorist infiltrated an American base and opened fire on U.S. troops. The knock on his family's door brought total shock and confusion into their home.

"It's the most gut-wrenching thing you could possibly go through," he said. "My wife — one minute she's fine, the next she's in tears."

On Sept. 21, 2010, Erin Looney's big brother, Lt. Brendan Looney, 29, boarded a helicopter with three fellow Navy SEALs and five soldiers. After it crashed, killing all nine U.S. troops, Erin was notified at work by her boss, a close family friend who had just spoken to her mother.

When Erin arrived home in a daze of grief, she found a houseful of grieving family members and friends, who provided plenty of love and support.

"I hugged my mom," she said. "People were just coming in all day and night."

While respecting the privacy of the families who lost a loved one in the tragic August 6 helicopter crash, we should emulate the relatives and friends of the Looney family. By putting aside our divisions and uniting behind our troops, we can help fill 30 grieving households with that same kind of love and support.

As President Barack Obama sits down in the Oval Office to sign condolence letters for 30 grieving military families, a speech delivered more than 25 years ago in the same office seems to fit this sad moment. On the solemn evening of January 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan spoke about the seven courageous astronauts who died in the tragic explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger.

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning — as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"


Friday, August 12, 2011

Soldiering On

Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane

As America continues to mourn the tragic loss of 30 U.S. troops on Saturday, August 6, it is important to remember that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not paused, even for one of the worst tragedies for our military since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Our deployed heroes are still working hard and risking their lives -- every single day.

Since the helicopter crash, at least ten U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan, including five on Thursday, who reportedly lost their lives when a roadside bomb exploded in the south. The following five American warriors killed earlier in the week have been identified by the Department of Defense.

Sgt. Daniel Patron, 26, Canton, Ohio
Sgt. Adan Gonzales Jr., 28, Bakersfield, California
Sgt. Joshua Robinson, 29, Omaha, Nebraska
Sgt. Alessandro Plutino, 28, Pitman, New Jersey
Cpl. Nicholas Ott, 23, Manchester, New Jersey

Along with the 30 brave sailors, airmen, and soldiers identified by the Pentagon this week, these soldiers and Marines sacrificed everything for the cause of freedom. This weekend, their brothers and sisters in arms continue the fight, during what has become one of the most difficult months of the entire Afghanistan conflict, which began in October 2001.

Our military is full of selfless patriots who volunteer to do some of the world's most difficult jobs. We pray for their safety, especially during this uncertain, dangerous time.

Image courtesy: Cpl. Adam Leyendecker

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Just Names

Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Joseph Swafford

Moments ago, the Department of Defense released the names of the 30 American heroes killed on August 6 in the Wardak province, Afghanistan, helicopter crash.

While the list of these names appears below, every patriotic American knows that this is not simply a collection of names. The list represents life; not only because these heroes fully dedicated themselves to their country, but because they saved countless lives during their stellar military careers.

We will never forget them.

Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Jonas Kelsall, 32, Shreveport, Louisiana

Special Warfare Operator Master Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Louis Langlais, 44, Santa Barbara, California

Special Warfare Operator Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Thomas Ratzlaff, 34, Green Forest, Arkansas

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Senior Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Kraig Vickers, 36, Kokomo, Hawaii

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Brian Bill, 31, Stamford, Connecticut

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) John Faas, 31, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Kevin Houston, 35, West Hyannisport, Massachusetts

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Matthew Mason, 37, Kansas City, Missouri

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Stephen Mills, 35, Fort Worth, Texas

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist/Diver) Nicholas Null, 30, Washington, West Virginia

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Robert Reeves, 32, Shreveport, Louisiana

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Heath Robinson, 34, Detroit, Michigan

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Darrik Benson, 28, Angwin, California

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Parachutist) Christopher Campbell, 36, Jacksonville, North Carolina

Information Systems Technician Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Jared Day, 28, Taylorsville, Utah

Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) John Douangdara, 26, South Sioux City, Nebraska

Cryptologist Technician (Collection) Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) Michael Strange, 25, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist) Jon Tumilson, 35, Rockford, Iowa

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Aaron Vaughn, 30, Stuart, Florida

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jason Workman, 32, Blanding, Utah

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jesse Pittman, 27, Ukiah, California

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class (SEAL) Nicholas Spehar, 24, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Chief Warrant Officer David Carter, 47, Centennial, Colorado

Chief Warrant Officer Bryan Nichols, 31, Hays, Kansas

Sgt. Patrick Hamburger, 30, Lincoln, Nebraska

Sgt. Alexander Bennett, 24, Tacoma, Washington

Spc. Spencer Duncan, 21, Olathe, Kansas

Tech. Sgt. John Brown, 33, Tallahassee, Florida

Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell, 26, Long Beach, California

Tech. Sgt. Daniel Zerbe, 28, York, Pennsylvania

File image courtesy: Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert Fluegel

Monday, August 8, 2011

Strength from Above

Image courtesy: U.S. Air Force

To be an explosive ordnance disposal technician, one must possess uncommon physical and emotional strength. Think "The Hurt Locker" — with all the Hollywood stripped out.

With sweat dripping from their foreheads, U.S. troops disabling roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq know that any given moment could be the end. Perhaps that's why Tech Sgt. Daniel Douville, 33, lived every day like it was his last.

While pictures of this brave airman show an imposing, muscular figure, a conversation with his wife of 14 years, LaShana Douville, left no doubt about the potency of his character. When asked how her family is coping with their hero's tragic death on June 26 in Afghanistan, LaShana was calm, composed, and strong.

"We're doing OK," she told The Unknown Soldiers. "We're taking things one day at a time."

After Tech Sgt. Douville's death, which the Pentagon said was the result of injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device blew up on the border of the volatile Helmand Province's Nad'Ali District, the most pressing concern was the couple's three children, Jadelynn, 14, Ayjah-Danielle, 12, and Daniel Jr., 9.

"I asked (Jadelynn), 'How are you doing? Because you're really quiet,'" LaShana, 33, said. "She said she's being what she knows her dad would want her to be, and that's strong."

Mom is equally proud of their youngest daughter.

"My 12-year-old has really stepped up," LaShana explained. "She's realized how important this is and what happened."

As the only son of a larger-than-life figure, Daniel Jr. shared a special bond with his father. While praising their son's tenacity during a time of tragedy, LaShana spoke of an empty spot inside the boy's big heart.

"My 9-year-old understands, but he's having the most difficult time," she said. "He doesn't have Dad."

At his father's memorial ceremony, the Bronze Star Medal awarded to his dad was pinned on Daniel Jr.'s shirt, just above his heart. As always, Mom was by his side.

"I'm here," she said. "I'll be here to take care of him."

Even while disabling enemy bombs by day during his combat deployments, Douville would still manage to be a part of parent-teacher conferences by night.

"He would call in from Afghanistan to be on speakerphone," LaShana said. "From the beginning, he wanted to take care of me and our kids."

During what turned out to be their last conversation, Douville calmed his wife's nerves from half a world away. On a Saturday, he phoned to let her know he was safe after not being able to call during the previous days' grueling back-to-back missions.

"He hadn't really slept," LaShana recalled. "He mentioned a third mission but said he wouldn't be going."

On Sunday, he was killed.

"Obviously, he went on that third mission," she said.

Without the love and support of relatives, friends, and fellow airmen, times would be even tougher at the Douvilles' Fort Walton Beach, Fla., home. But during the most difficult weeks of her life, nothing has been more important to LaShana than her faith.

"That is exactly what has helped me through all of this," she said. "I found the strength I never knew I had."

LaShana said that as a humble warrior, her husband rarely spoke to her about his heroic accomplishments. After he was killed, she realized that in between those parent-teacher conferences, he was doing amazing things.

"He saved a lot of lives out there and put a lot of bad people away," LaShana said. "I've heard so many people say so many times that he was the best."

While being the best he could be on the battlefield was very important to Tech Sgt. Daniel Douville, nothing mattered more than his family.

"We talked about being parents," she said. "But we even talked about someday being grandparents."

Through all the family milestones still to come, LaShana said with absolute certainty that her husband, a man of deep faith, is watching over his wife and children.

"Not only was he my husband," she said. "He was my best friend. He was a good person."

LaShana Douville still feels her husband's strength from the heavens above.

"I'm OK," she said.


Image courtesy: LaShana Douville

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Empty Sky

File image courtesy: Capt. Mindy Yu

On Friday, there was a discussion on this blog and on The Unknown Soldiers Facebook page about the importance of always keeping American troops in our daily thoughts, even as many of us relax with family and friends on weekends.

"I set my phone to remind me at noon each day to pray for our troops," Kim Forrester Gobie wrote.

On Saturday morning, Americans awoke to one of the most horrific incidents of nearly a decade at war in Afghanistan. NATO has confirmed the crash of an International Security Assistance Force helicopter in Wardak province, which is on the eastern front. Afghan president Hamid Karzai said 31 Americans and seven Afghans were killed in the devastating crash.

While the Taliban has claimed responsibility for shooting down the Chinook helicopter, NATO said it is investigating the cause of the crash.

"ISAF is still in the process of assessing the circumstances to determine the facts of the incident," a statement said. "Reporting indicates there was enemy activity in the area."

While U.S. officials have not confirmed the exact numbers released by Karzai and will not release the names of the fallen until their loved ones have been notified, various media reports indicate that U.S. special forces suffered heavy casualties in the crash. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued the following statement:

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of many outstanding Americans in uniform and of their Afghan counterparts earlier today in Afghanistan," Panetta said in a statement. "Their courage was exemplary, as was their determination to make this a safer world for their countries and for their fellow citizens.

"We will stay the course to complete that mission, for which they and all who have served and lost their lives in Afghanistan have made the ultimate sacrifice," the defense secretary continued. "They and their families are in my thoughts, in my prayers and in my heart."

Panetta did the right thing by immediately spotlighting the families of our fallen heroes, because that's what this story is about. In the days to come, dozens of Americans will receive knocks on their doors from military messengers and learn that their loved one was on board that helicopter when it vanished from the sky. Putting aside politics, now is a time to show unity, not division, for the sake of the grieving relatives of the heroes who have been lost.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country."

As news of this tragedy reaches the thousands of U.S. troops still serving in Afghanistan, they are experiencing feelings few of us can understand. Based on past conversations with men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I can only surmise that tragedies like this one are taken personally by our troops, and the resolve to carry on is overwhelming.

On May 1, U.S. special forces gave America its finest hour of the 21st century when Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. Today, as our valiant special forces mourn their dead, let us make them proud by showing steadfast, unflinching support for our service members and their families, and especially those who have lost a loved one.

While the skies above Afghanistan may seem empty at this dark hour, grieving troops can take comfort in knowing that half a world away, Americans are filling the heavens with prayers for their safety. No matter what, this nation will never give up on the men and women who defend it.

File image courtesy: Sgt. Teddy Wade