For many Americans, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are far off in the distance, with little impact on their own lives. But here in the South Sound, they resonate as clearly as the sound of artillery during training exercises and as visibly as the transport planes that fly overhead.
Because of the presence of Fort Lewis, few other places in America so deeply feel the weight of war and know the cost of it. The single deadliest day so far for our forces was Monday, when eight Stryker soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, they and 10 other Americans came home. President Obama was at Dover Air Force Base, Del. – the first time a president has been present when remains of fallen military arrived.
The president’s presence was significant. He will soon decide how to continue pursuing the war in Afghanistan. Welcoming home the 18 dead Americans and meeting with family members – when their grief and loss was still raw – will surely weigh on his decision.
Obama acknowledged as such after the Dover ceremony: “The burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts.”
The president was photographed participating in the arrival of the casket of one Fort Lewis soldier, Sgt. Dale Griffin, whose family had given permission for media coverage of his return. Because of the welcome change in military policy, which allows families to decide on coverage at Dover, more Americans are able to witness – at least from a distance – the price paid by soldiers and their loved ones.
This has been the worst month for U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan since the United States invaded the country in October 2001. As long as U.S. troops are on the ground in such dangerous places as Afghanistan and Iraq, the grim ceremony at Dover will be repeated again and again.
The nation’s volunteer soldiers and their families deserve our admiration and respect. That could entail anything from thanking service members to making a greater effort to hire them when they leave the military. It’s the least any of us can do.