To the point week of 11-15-07

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AS WE GET CLOSE TO THE END of 2007, many people are looking forward to next year with a single purpose – the promise of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

I can’t imagine being a parent with a child serving overseas. I would be very torn between being proud of their commitment to service and country; and being scared for their safety.

I’m sure this isn’t a unique perspective, and for those parents who have a child serving overseas, you should know that this community and this country sees your child as a hero.

But there is mixed news coming from Iraq.

One report from the government hailed the month of October as the month with the fewest causalities since Americans became involved there. It says that it shows that the American cause is winning in Iraq, and that more and more control of the country is being handed over to local control.

The number of deaths fell from 84 in August to 65 in September to 38 in October.

Another report says that the year 2007 has been the worst of all years in terms of American causalities.

In 2005, there were 846 U.S. casualties. That number fell to 822 in 2006; but currently stands at 860 through early this week, with approximately six more weeks to go before 2007 comes to an end.

Since we entered the conflict in March of 2003, a total of 3,863 U.S. soldiers have lost their lives; with 28,451 wounded in battle.

As we celebrated Veterans Day this past Monday, and as we as a nation head towards the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is important to remember and to never forget that all of these numbers are not merely statistics – they are men and women who left their jobs and left their families to do a duty with honor.

They are sons and daughters. They are husbands and wives. Fathers and mothers. They are people with names and histories – but no longer a future.

According to a website called icasualties.com, the latest confirmed death in Iraq was on November 13th.

Sergeant Joseph M. Vanek was 22 years old and lived in Elmhurst, Illinois. The website says that he died on November 12th when enemy forces attacked his unit using small arms fire. It says that Sergeant Vanek was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Elmhurst, Illinois is near Chicago, and seems to be a quiet suburban community that people feel safe in and stay busy raising strong families.

To the residents of Elmhurst, Joseph Vanek is more than casualty number 3,863 – he’s a son of the community. He’s a face and a smile and a graduate of the local high school.

Lowell Wayne and Rita Sullivan brought me a small card a few months ago with the photo of Cincinnati soldier Matt Maupin on it.

You may know about Matt Maupin. He was captured by Iraqi forces on April 9th, 2004; and his family is holding out hope that he is still alive.

Matt Maupin hasn’t been “counted” yet, but his presence is still very much felt.

He isn’t a statistic, either.

He was an outstanding student and a football player at Glen Este High School. He earned a scholarship and attended the University of Cincinnati, and in 2002 he enlisted in the Army Reserves.

He went to Kuwait in February of 2004; and then to Iraq on March 5th. He was in the country just over a month when he was captured.

On April 16th, he appeared on a tape broadcast by an Arab television station, and appeared alert and unhurt.

On June 28th of 2004 the news agency Al Jazeera reported that Matt Maupin had been executed. He is still missing.

As a governmental official, soldiers like Matt Maupin go on a line with other statistics. To his family and friends in Cincinnati – he is anything but.

I don’t know when or if we’re ever going to be able to leave Iraq, but I do know that we need to continue to support and praise those brave men and women who are over there.

The Vevay American Legion is currently collecting items to be included in care packages to be sent in time to arrive for Christmas. A partial list of the items needed is included in a story on page 16 of today’s edition.

Everyone needs to take the time to consider helping fill those Christmas packages to the top, because even though we aren’t over there – our sons and daughters and others are.