Friday, July 27, 2012

100 U.S. Dead in Afghanistan In Three Months

With so much else going on in the news – a horrific mass shooting in Colorado, a huge election year and, of course, the economy—it is far too easy for the average American to forget that we are a nation at war.  What little public debate there is about the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan is incredibly muted and our people appear to largely believe we are winding down in that conflict. So we have a recipe for ignorance in which the majority of Americans have no clue about how many of our men and women are dying there every day.

The numbers of our war dead in Afghanistan just since May 1 are both sad and astounding: 100 troops have died in less than three months, with 40 killed in May, 28 in June and 32 so far in July.

To give you an idea of how we are most assuredly not “winding down,” there have been 2,061 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in the 10 years and nine months since our war there began – or an average of 16 deaths a month for almost 11 years.

We have lost 100 of our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and parents in just the last three months – does this sound like we're winding down to you?

The one thing I always believed as I watched young people stand mostly silent during the Iraq War – their version of Vietnam – and now have nothing collectively to say about the losses we continue to sustain with no clear mission in Afghanistan, is that the absence of a military draft is largely the reason for this indifference.

If our twenty-somethings and teens were being pulled off college campuses or drafted right out of high school to attain a murky objective in a brutal and distant land, there would be protests going on from the University of Maine to San Diego State.  But the vast majority of the burden for our most recent wars has always been shouldered by our military people and their immediate and extended families – and that’s about it.

There’s been no shared sacrifice and, as we lose a person a day in Afghanistan, our population floats merrily along waiting for the next hyped-up domestic news story or for the latest episode of The Kardashians.

And who have we lost since May while we are so preoccupied with anything but that?

Marine Lance Cpl. Eugene C. Mills III, of Laurel, Md., was only 21 years old when he died June 22 in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  According to his father, Mills decided to join the military while still a boy, after watching the September 11 attacks on television.

"When my son was 11-years-old, he saw the towers fall and said he wanted to serve his country," said his  father.

Another young Marine, Pfc. Steven P. Stevens II, 23, of Tallahassee, Fla., was also killed in June and never got to meet his son, who was born just days after Stevens left for Afghanistan.

Army Pfc. Cody O. Moosman, was only 24 when he died on July 3, in Gayan Alwara Mandi, Afghanistan.  He had been an Eagle Scout and looked forward to returning home to Preston, Idaho, where his passion was hunting and fishing.

One of the most recently killed, Army Pfc. Adam C. Ross, 19, of Lyman, S.C., died this week in an ambush while on foot patrol in Afghanistan after only being in the country for three weeks.  He was just 19 years old.

And 37-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Raul M. Guerra, of Union City, N.J., died on the 4th of July during his fifth – that’s right, his fifth – combat deployment.

Those are just some of the names and stories behind these numbers that should get more attention, but receive next to none.

And for what, at this point, have we lost these young people?

The original mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and defeat al-Qaeda has been accomplished. The Taliban is in tatters and capable only of setting IEDs or taking pot-shots at our troops, who are now operating primarily as targets in a country destined for perpetual holy war.

And most experts agree that while there will continue to be anti-terrorism battles to fight, they are best pursued as targeted efforts that don’t necessarily conform to one country’s boundaries. Which all leads to an obvious, inescapable conclusion – it’s time to get the hell out of Afghanistan.

If 100 of our people dead in less than three months doesn’t tell us that, I don’t know what will.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualties

Earlier this week, the Department of Defense announced the deaths of four soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  The following are brief profiles of those we have lost.

Staff Sgt. Carl E. Hammar, 24, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., died July 14, in Khost province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from enemy small arms fire.

Hammar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

Staff Sgt. Hammar, who previously served two tours of duty in Iraq, had been in Afghanistan since December. He graduated from Lake Havasu High School in 2005 and went on to take classes at Mohave Community College’s Lake Havasu City campus from fall 2004 to fall 2006.

“He was very funny,” said Lamae Spellman-Douglas, who taught Hammar at Mohave Community College. “He was always telling jokes. And he listened to the weirdest music, like that ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. He was always saying, ‘Here you gotta listen to this.’”

Spellman-Douglas said Hammar felt strongly about his Swedish heritage, and had come to her house to cook Swedish pancakes for her and her husband a few years ago.

“He was really excited about going in (to the Army),” she said. “He’ll be missed by his friends.”

Hammar joined the Army in December 2005 and graduated from basic training, advanced individual training and the basic airborne course at Fort Benning, Ga., before being stationed as an infantryman at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered that the flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff Tuesday and again on the day of his burial.

“This is a day to offer our condolences, prayers and due respect for Staff Sgt. Hammar and the family he leaves behind,” Brewer said in a prepared statement.

Sgt. Erik N. May, 26, of Independence, Kan., died July 14, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. May was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

May joined the Army in September 2007 and was assigned to Fort Riley in February 2009. He was on his second deployment when he died, having served in Iraq in 2009.

His awards include an Army Commendation Medal, an Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, and the Iraq Campaign Medal with one campaign star.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) issued a statement Tuesday on the death of Sergeant May. It states: “All Americans will forever be indebted to Sergeant May for his service on our behalf. My deepest sympathies go out to his family, and I ask all Kansans to join me in remembering his family and friends in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

According to Moran's press release, initial reports indicate that May died of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident.

Spc. Sergio E. Perez Jr., 21, of Crown Point, Ind. and  Spc. Nicholas A. Taylor, 20, of Berne, Ind. both died July 16, in Wali Kot District, Afghanistan, from injuries suffered when their vehicle was struck by enemy rocket propelled grenades.  The soldiers were assigned to the 81st Troop Command, Indiana National Guard, Indianapolis, Ind.

Spc. Perez graduated from Lake Central High School in May of 2010 and not long after graduation joined the Indiana National Guard. After training in Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, he was deployed to Afghanistan with the 17th Engineer Company. His company mobilized at the end of September 2011 and is scheduled to return toward the end of September this year.

Friend and former co-worker Amber Counts said Perez made a strong impression on those who knew him.

"Sergio was very, very friendly," she said. "He always asked how people were doing and was concerned about them."

"He was just an all-around great guy - no matter who you are, he would get along with you no matter what," said friend Esteban Gutierrez.

"He would do anything for anybody. No questions asked," said good friend Mitchell Peters, who got a tattoo to honor Perez Tuesday morning. "There's nothing anyone would say bad about him."

Perez is survived by his parents, Sergio E. Perez Sr. and Veronica Orozco.

Spc. Nicholas Taylor,  the son of Timothy Ray and Stephania Dawn Taylor, graduated from South Adams High School in May of 2010. His father is the police chief in Berne, a community in northeast Indiana.

"For the young men and women that do serve our country, I cannot say enough about them to volunteer and do that," said Asst. Chief Jim Newbold of the Berne Police Department. "As for Nick, I am kind of at a loss for words."

After graduating from high school, where he played football, wrestled and ran track,  Taylor enlisted in the Indiana Army National Guard and went to basic training and Combat Engineer training at Fort Leonard Wood.  Taylor returned to Fort Leonard Wood in April 2011 to attend the Route/Reconnaissance Clearance Operations Course in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.

According to family, Taylor was scheduled to come home in September and had spoken about enrolling in college with his brother and majoring in criminal justice.

"He was very well thought of, very highly respected," said Matt Lehman, a former co-worker of Taylor. "He was kind of a people magnet... whenever you saw him, he had a big smile, and people were naturally attracted to him."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Memo To Governor Mark Dayton: Football Is Not War

In a political year filled with more stupid statements than Mitt Romney has offshore bank accounts, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton unleashed a doozy yesterday.  While discussing the recent legal problems of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has been charged with resisting arrest after getting into a fracas with an off-duty cop in Houston earlier this month, Dayton told Minnesota Public Radio that playing football is very much like being in military combat.

He started by saying that football players are so accustomed to violence at work that getting in trouble on their off time is more likely for them than for John Q. Public.

''It means that young males who are heavily armored and heavily psyched as necessary to carry out their job are probably more susceptible to be in bars at 2 o'clock in the morning and have problems, or DUIs. It doesn't excuse it, it just says that it probably comes with it,'' Dayton said.

But then he took it too far, saying that football players may be as likely to cross the law as some small percentage of war Veterans because of the similarities between playing football and serving in combat.

''It's basically slightly civilized war,” said Dayton, of playing professional football. “And then they take that into society, much as solders come back, and they've been in combat or the edge of it and then suddenly that adjustment back to civilian life is a real challenge.''

While the Vikings lead the NFL with 39 arrests since 2000 and should probably consider having a criminal lawyer on retainer, comparing guys playing a game 40 to 50 hours a year to the enormous danger and strain faced by our troops in combat is both absurd and offensive.

More than 6,500 of our military men and women have died at war in the last 10 years, which is in stark contrast to the, well, none, who have been killed in a professional football game in the same period.

And there’s an obvious difference between your foe being someone who wants to make you fall down and go boom and an enemy whose express goal is to end your life and the lives of everyone around you.  The biggest risk faced by NFL players is an under-diagnosed concussion which, while a serious problem, is significantly down the scale from being shot to death or suddenly being blown to bits by an improvised explosive device.

Professional football players also work before adoring, cheering crowds to earn riches in an environment where the most hostile action they’re likely to face is a drunken lout from the other team’s fan base dumping beer on them as they head for the locker room, a press conference and their waiting Ferraris.

Comparing football to war is like saying someone accidentally stepping on your toe is similar to them running you down with their car.

If you want to liken football to the stresses of combat, let’s start by arming, say, 20 percent of the stadium crowd with assault rifles and maybe five percent of them with RPG launchers.  Oh, and then the players need to be on the field in front of these fans – who can fire at will – every day for a year or so.  And then the NFL warriors get to come back and do that for two, three and four times during their careers.

By the way -- and in case this isn’t obvious -- Governor Dayton has never served in the military.

And that’s fine.  Being a Veteran is not a prerequisite for serving honorably and ably in public life.  But when you’ve chosen a profession that gives you the opportunity to frequently step in front of a microphone, it’s important that you choose your words carefully and avoid saying something that at the very least is silly and at worst is downright contemptuous of the sacrifices made by our military people.

News flash for Minnesota’s governor: America has lost 85 men and women in Afghanistan since just the beginning of May.

I bet their families would give anything to see them playing football right now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Busting PTSD Myths

There was a good post recently on the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE ) blog about some of the false assumptions surrounding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and some truths to help knock down those myths.  The piece refutes the idea that only weak people get gripped by PTSD as well as discussing the notion that PTSD effects can be so overwhelming that treatment won't help.

You can read that blog post here.

The DCoE also offers an excellent PTSD fact sheet that expands on that blog post. For example, it answers with the following on why, if PTSD is clinically legitimate, every person ever exposed to trauma is not afflicted:
Fact: While it’s true that only a percentage of people exposed to trauma develop PTSD, this is due to several specific factors. Each individual exposed to a trauma has their own set of risk factors for potentially developing PTSD, some of which are genetics, past history of other traumas and the degree or duration of their exposure to traumatic events.
Have a look at the DCoE PTSD fact sheet here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sgt. Michael E. Ristau, 25, of Rockford, Ill., died July 13 in Qalat, Zabul province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.

He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Ristau joined the Army in July 2004 and attended Initial Army Training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Benning, GA. He had been at Lewis-McChord since he completed that training and deployed to Afghanistan with his brigade in December 2011.

This was Ristau's second deployment, having served in Iraq from June 2006 to August 2007.

Ristau's family released the following statement,
"Sergeant Michael Ristau, husband, father, son, brother, died serving the country that he loved. He will live on forever in our memories. Though his time on earth was short, his impact was huge. We have lost our Michael, but we are still so proud of him and his choice to serve our nation. He had a tremendous love for life and was passionate about bull riding. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and many family and friends. We want to thank all of our friends, family, community and the nation for their prayers and support during this time of great loss.”
Sgt. Ristau had just been married in June of 2011 and was a  father to a newborn baby.

During his career he earned several awards including the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star and Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star.

Ristau is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, one child and a large family.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Spc. Sterling W. Wyatt, 21, of Columbia, Mo., died July 11, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.

Wyatt was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

According to his mother, Sherry Wyatt, her son was killed while on patrol and in transit between two bases in Afghanistan. She said he entered the military knowing full well that he could be deployed to a foreign theater. He was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was assigned as a gun turret operator on armored vehicles.

"He went into it with open eyes and a willing heart," she said.

A 2009 graduate of Rock Bridge High School, Wyatt joined the Army in November 2010 and deployed on this combat mission in December 2011. This was his first deployment.

The young soldier was an Eagle Scout and had a history of community service.  As part of his efforts to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout, Wyatt constructed a walkway in a courtyard at Shepard Boulevard Elementary School leading to an outdoor classroom. The project was intended to make travel easier for students who use wheelchairs.

"I think he would have been a future leader of the community in some fashion," his mother said.

Jeff Guillory, who serves as scoutmaster for Wyatt's former Boy Scout troop, said he was surprised when Wyatt joined the Army. But, he said, the young man felt it was part of his "duty to God and country, as it says in the Scouts oath."

Guillory described Wyatt as "very loyal to his friends and family."

Wyatt was also a member of Columbia’s First Baptist Church, and he carried out community service projects in his hometown.

“He left Columbia a boy, and he’s coming back a hero,” said Judy Baker, a former Missouri state representative whose husband is pastor at the church.

Wyatt had earned the following awards and decorations:  National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, NATO Medal, Certificate of Achievement, and Combat Infantryman Badge.

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his father, Randy Wyatt, and a brother.

Mine Detection Dogs Save Lives In Afghanistan

I love dogs and there's nothing like a story like this from the Defense Department to make me appreciate their service to mankind even more.

The piece features, Lobo and his handler, Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Black, who risk their lives in Afghanistan to find and clear explosives before our troops drive over them or, even worse, step on them.  They are part of the 49th Engineer Detachment from Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and the full-time job of these canine soldiers is to find buried mines and other explosives and warn the troops so further preventative action can be taken.

Here's an excerpt from the article, which tells of a common scenario:
Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Black moved back toward the mine clearance vehicle to watch from a safe distance as a team traced the wire of a suspected improvised explosive device back toward the road. 
Black’s military working dog, Lobo, was held on the end of a leash as the pair took a short break after searching the last 500 meters along the road. 
Suddenly, enemy forces unleashed AK-47 rifle fire. The U.S. soldiers hugged the ground and returned fire. Support vehicles joined in engaging the enemy and after five minutes, forced the attackers to withdraw. 
The team lost the wire’s location during the engagement and was now scrambling to find it. Black brought Lobo up to search. Lobo walked out front, nose to the ground, with Black still on the leash close behind. After no more than 70 meters, Lobo stopped. Black called Lobo back, marked the site, and called for support. The site was inspected and 200 pounds of homemade explosive was found buried four feet down.
Gutsy individuals, these men and women and their dogs, doing incredibly dangerous work that has helped save many lives during America's 10-year presence in Afghanistan.

The handlers and their dogs go through months of training together and are fully certified in explosive detection at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona before being deployed.

I always hope that when it's their time to "retire" these dogs get to go home with one of their handlers, which was the case with former Marine Megan Leavey and her dog Rex earlier this year.

So, while I'm not a cat hater, it's clear who you want on your side when you need some serious help.

You can go here to read the whole article on these amazing dogs and the work they do.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Six Killed in Afghanistan

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of six soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died in a massive explosion on July 8, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit in Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, Afghanistan, with an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 978th Military Police Company, 93rd Military Police Battalion, Fort Bliss, Texas.

An Army spokesman said the military usually waits 24 hours after the family is notified before making a public announcement of a soldier's death.  The delay in this case was because of multiple deaths from a single incident, where the names are not released until all families are notified and 24 hours have passed.

In addition to these six deaths, bombs and attacks killed 16 Afghan civilians, five policemen and two members of the U.S.-led coalition in southern Afghanistan on the same day, Afghan and NATO authorities said.

The six American deaths occurred just south of Kabul, when their armored vehicle struck a bomb.

The following are brief profiles of the soldiers lost in this attack.

Pfc. Trevor B. Adkins was 21 years old and from Spring Lake, N.C. He was a 2010 graduate of  Overhills High School where he was remembered fondly by teachers and staff.

"He wanted to be an MP. That's what he always talked about," said Stephanie Creech, his former chemistry teacher. "He loved junior ROTC. He absolutely loved it."

An Overhills High guidance counselor described Adkins as "quietly awesome."

Spc. Erica P. Alecksen was just 21 years old and from Eatonton, Ga.  She  joined the Army shortly after graduating from Putnam County High School in Georgia in 2009.

“She loved being in the Army,” said Alecksen’s grandmother, Maurine Huggins. “She was always praised for her ability to follow orders.”

But she didn’t take herself too seriously and had tremendous wit, her aunt said.

“I’m probably the coolest dork,” reads the Facebook cover photo she changed June 30. It was her last post.

"It's hard to put words to it,” Alecksen’s father, Lars Alecksen said. “Every word you could express is just a small part of what we're feeling."

According to information provided by her family, her regular duty involved driving MRAP – mine-resistant, ambush-protected – vehicles on patrol missions. She also was involved with the communications and security center, as well as KP, mail and food delivery.

She called her father almost every day while in Afghanistan.

"It meant the world to me," her father said. "You can write letters, send e-mails, there's different forms of communication. But for me, that voice, and hearing her joy, it just gave me heart and it gave me hope."

Alecksen had been an MP with the 978th since August 2010. The unit first deployed in June 2011.

Relatives said the young soldier was married and her husband has been living in El Paso, Texas, where she was based at Fort Bliss.

Erica Alecksen is survived by her husband and a large family.

Pfc. Alejandro J. Pardo, 21, of Porterville, Calif., was described as an All-American boy, who hoped to someday open a pizza parlor in Chicago. Pardo, a 2009 graduate of Granite Hills High School in California’s Central Valley, joined the Army about a month after graduating.

He was in the middle of a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Pardo played cello in middle school and performed with a school orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City, said Veronica Padilla, a parent of a former classmate. As a teen, Pardo was active in the church youth group at St. Anne's Parish.

Hannah Risvold, 20, of Springville, said she spoke via the Internet with Pardo a few days ago. He told her he lost friends in the war a few days earlier and was excited at the prospect of coming home in November.

"He was an All-American kid," said Risvold, who was in the church youth group with Pardo when they were teens. "He always had a smile on his face."

His aunt said he volunteered to go to Afghanistan but imagined the day he would be out of uniform.

"He told me when he got out of the service that he really wanted to open a pizza restaurant in Chicago," she said.

Aneliz Jimenez, a former member of the church youth group, said she gave him a small pink bow when he left for assignment in Korea.

"I told him he needs a dash of color," Jimenez said. "He wore it under his uniform. A year later when he got back, he told me he was still wearing it."

Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chairman Allen Ishida requested on Wednesday that all United States flags to be flown at half-staff at all County buildings in remembrance of Alejandro Pardo. The city of Porterville lowered its flags Tuesday.

“Our thoughts are prayers go out to the family of Alejandro Pardo and all the families who have lost young men and women who died serving our Country,” Ishida said. “Tulare County will fly our flags at half-staff and encourage individuals, businesses, and other organizations to join us in remembrance of Mr. Pardo for his sacrifice to our Country.”

Pardo is survived by his mother Kate and an older brother, Anthony.

Staff Sgt. Ricardo Seija, 31, of Tampa, Fla., joined the Army in 2000 and was on his first combat mission to Afghanistan, arriving there in March.

He was initially scheduled to return in November. But his mother and father are elderly and facing health issues. He was granted permission to return in August to spend time with them and his son, 8-year-old Ricardo, from his first marriage.

Seija’s parents are Colombian, but he was born in Chicago and spent much of his childhood there. The family moved to Tampa in 1998.  Seija attended and graduated from Tampa’s Leto High in 1999 and soon thereafter enlisted in the Army.

"He wanted to defend his homeland," his mother, Ignacia Seija said. "He loved this country very much."

"I want America to remember him as a hero. And he'll always be in my heart."

The youngest of three sons, Seija had previously served in South Korea, Puerto Rico and Germany.

He was recently remarried – in March of 2012, just before this deployment – and he leaves behind his wife, Sunny, in El Paso, Texas.

Seija is also survived by his mother, Ignacia Seija, his father, Ricardo Seija, both of Tampa; a son from a previous marriage, Ricardo Seija, 8, of Missouri; and two older brothers, Jose Seija, and Eduardo Seija, both of Chicago, Ill.

Spring Grove, Pa. was home to Pfc. Cameron J. Stambaugh, who died Sunday at age 20.

According to his family, Stambaugh always wanted to be a soldier and he and his brother – who is less than a year younger -- made a pact when they were kids to join the military. His brother is stationed at Fort Hood in Texas now. Military service ran in the family, with his grandfather serving during World War II.

Stambaugh had been in Afghanistan for only about three months and was wounded by shrapnel only three weeks after he arrived, but recovered and was back on duty.

His father said he regretted his son being placed in harm's way.

"I regret him being over there," he said. "Absolutely, we should not be there. It's senseless. The people over there just live to kill. They're probably celebrating."

"He was only a kid."

The soldier’s father described him as quiet, confident and inquisitive, saying "He could get into your head without saying a word."

Along with the rest of his family, Stambaugh had a lifelong passion for hunting and fishing.

Spc. Clarence Williams III, 23, was from Brooksville, Fla. and was just weeks away from the end of a six-month deployment when he was killed.

A 2008 graduate of Hernando High School, Williams was an avid hunter and fisherman who was happiest in the woods or in the water, according to his family. He played football at Hernando High and sang in the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Brooksville.

His father, Clarence Williams Jr., is a corporal with the Florida Highway Patrol who served in the Army and still is a reservist. Williams wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, and to experience some adventure beyond Brooksville, so he enlisted in 2009 for five years, with plans to become a military police officer.

He also participated in the Hernando County Sheriff's Office Explorer's program.

"He was a fine young man," said Col. Mike Maurer, the second-in-command at the sheriff's office who befriended the future soldier. "It would almost be the highlight of your day when he walked in to say hello."

The young man would make the occasional return visit and meet the new Explorers. On at least one occasion he came in wearing his Army uniform. He made for a great role model, Maurer said.

"He was a real respectful, nice kid," he said.

Williams, who had already earned an associate's degree in criminal justice, last saw his family in December, and left for Afghanistan in February. He spoke to his family often by webcam or phone. Williams was able to wish his sister a happy Independence Day last week.

Rodney Byrd, who coached Williams in high school, had known him since he was a little boy.  He said Williams was a great kid who turned into an outstanding man.

“He was a 'yes sir, no sir' type guy," Byrd said. "Very good kid, very honorable kid. Honest and had integrity.”

Clarence Williams III is survived by his father, his mother, Talisa Williams; and his sisters, Abrill Edwards of Kissimmee and Samantha Williams of Brooksville.

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced this week the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Cpl. Juan P. Navarro, 23, of Austin, Texas, died July 7, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.  Navarro was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Navarro graduated from Austin's Lanier High School in 2007 and became the first of 11 brothers and sisters to attend college. Soon after, he became the first in his family to enter the military, joining the Army in 2008 and going to Fort Benning, Ga. for Initial Army Training and Advanced Individual Training.

"He wasn't afraid," said his brother-in-law Eleazar Dominguez. "He was courageous. He wasn't afraid of gunshots. He wasn't afraid of anything."

"He was the type of person that even if he didn't know you he would give you a big smile and a hug," said his older brother, Miguel Pantoja. "I'm proud of everything he did. I'm proud of him because he did what he wanted to do."

Navarro had planned on leaving the Army within a few months and resuming his studies at Texas State University.  According to his family, he had  taken a break from college because he didn't want to burden his family with paying for his education and he knew the Army would pay for him to go to school.

"The world feels empty. Like the world is gone. That's how it feels," said Navarro's younger sister Carmen Navarro.

New TSA Rules Coming For Service Members

Well, I suppose this is something, even if the rest of us still get treated like terrorists...

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced yesterday that it is planning new procedures that would accelerate passing through airport security for people in active-duty military service.

"TSA recognizes the trustworthiness of our service men and women," said the TSA's Chris McLaughlin in a congressional hearing. "We know that they pose little risk to aviation security and we are dedicated to doing everything we can to meet the needs of U.S. military personnel when they travel by air."

Of the new procedures being proposed, one would allow families of our service members returning from overseas duty to pass through security and be allowed to meet their loved ones at the gate.  That's a nice consideration and it looks like when boarding a flight our troops won't have to go through the process of removing their shoes.

I guess they have finally come to the conclusion that, given that our men and women in uniform are often fighting terrorists, they are unlikely to actually be terrorists.  No word on how TSA will verify the identities of service members and one assumes it will be something other than the uniform they are wearing.

Better late than never with those obvious conclusions, TSA.

As for the rest of you terrorist suspects, get those shoes off and empty those sippy cups!

Here's the video from The Pentagon Channel: