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Honor the fallen by continuing to serve

  • Published
  • By Col. Mike Hornitschek
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing commander
In the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 6, a CH-47 Chinook crashed in eastern Afghanistan. Thirty U.S. military members serving on the International Security Assistance Force (including three Airmen), a civilian interpreter, and seven Afghan commandos were killed.

We join the nation, and especially the friends and families of these fallen warriors, in mourning the tragic loss of these military heroes.

Following notification of the crash, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued this statement, "...We ought to remember that the troops we lose in this war aren't just statistics or numbers on a wall. They were parents and siblings, and someone's child. We need to make sure we do all we can to comfort and support the families who lives are now forever changed. We also need to make sure we remain committed to the mission. The fight goes on. These brave Americans volunteered to serve their country. They risked their lives doing it. They gave their lives doing it. The best way we can honor that sacrifice is to keep at it, keep fighting, keep moving forward. I'm certain that this is what our fallen would have wanted, and it is certainly what we are going to do."

According to the Department of Defense's Casualty Report as of Aug. 8, under Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Unites States has lost 4,421 U.S. military members and DoD civilians; under Operation New Dawn, there have been a total of 56 casualties, and under Operation Enduring Freedom, 1,687 military and civilian lives have been lost.

As Adm. Mullen said, each of these numbers represents a person--a spouse, a parent, a friend, a colleague. Their deaths are all tragic losses and their too-short lives will forever impact the people blessed to have met them.

Here at Scott Air Force Base, we participate on an almost weekly basis in at least one Fallen Warrior mission. Many times the aircraft are in need of fuel and the missions are on the ground for only a few minutes. On other occasions, the Fallen Warrior's home of record is nearby and the mission becomes a Dignified Transfer. Regardless of how long it takes, the time of day or the weather, I and a team of base leaders greet these aircraft and render military honors.

Everyone who serves and makes the ultimate sacrifice has well-earned the nation's gratitude and deserves to be properly recognized. It is a humble privilege to be a part of this very special mission, and the greeting team's participation is not taken lightly. During the one hour aircraft refueling layover we spend with the military escorts, we have shared time with fathers and brothers, comrades, and friends. For many of these escorts, the days of travel and grieving have been long, for many the next stop on the flight plan is directly into the arms of waiting family and friends. We can see the seriousness and maturity in their eyes, but invariably the conversation always turns to a celebration of how wonderful a human being our Fallen Warrior was, and how they were so willing to sacrifice. And although we will never meet him or her, we recognize them because we see others exactly like them all around us each and every day. Those of us who remain carry on where these fine Americans left off--it is the greatest honor we can bestow upon them.

Our Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama, released this statement about the Chinook crash, "My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan. Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan. We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied. We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful future for their country. At this difficult hour, all Americans are united in support of our men and women in uniform who serve so that we can live in freedom and security."

Let the President and Joint Chief of Staff's words not only be for those that died in Saturday's Chinook crash. Let them ring true for all our fallen brothers and sisters of arms. Let us pour out our heartache over the loss of all Fallen Warriors as a renewed commitment to the oaths we took for duty, honor, and country.

What we do is not easy. We knew the sacrifices and we knew the risks. Yet, each of us raised our hands and said yes--we will serve.

Take the President's words to heart and draw inspiration from the Fallen among us. Honor them by continuing to say--you will serve.

Then, do just that. Serve with pride, conviction, and passion knowing your efforts are a tribute to our Fallen Warriors and a testament their lives were not lost in vain.