A profound loss



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When word arrived last week that a soldier with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division — also known as the Spartans — had been killed in Afghanistan, we were struck with a deep sense of loss.

Although Spc. Jeffrey White was not the first soldier from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson to be lost in combat since the war began, he did have the distinction of being the first member of the Spartans killed since their most recent deployment began in November. Along with more than 3,000 of his brothers and sisters in arms, White attended a gala send-off ceremony held at Sullivan Arena before the brigade headed into harm’s way. There, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell told the soldiers that they should consider themselves members of a large Alaskan family.

“I want you to consider Alaskans your extended families,” Parnell said.

Indeed, losing White — a 21-year-old from Missouri on his first deployment overseas — felt much like losing a family member.

Five other members of the brigade were also injured in the improvised explosive device attack that killed White. It’s likely that these soldiers will face difficult and challenging recoveries from their injuries, both physical and emotional.

This most recent tragedy underscores the dangers our men and women in the field face on a daily basis. Because we’re so far away from the war zone, it’s often easy for us to look at war as an abstract concept. And because this particular war has gone on for so long, stories of IED attacks in remote parts of Afghanistan may seem routine.

But for the men and women fighting at this very moment to protect our American way of life, there’s nothing at all routine about having to look death in the face on a daily basis. For them, every day is a constant struggle to stay positive and keep their heads up. Every day is a battle against dangerous enemies — those known, unseen and imagined.

White’s death should serve as a reminder of how good we have it here at home, and why we’re able to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. Because there’s young men and women like him willing to do something that few of us would have the courage or honor to do, we are able to live in a place free from the kind of fear and danger that stalks our troops each and every day in Afghanistan.

Let’s all take a moment today to remember Spc. Jeffery White — and everyone else serving in our armed forces — and the sacrifices they make for us every day. No matter your feelings on the war, please remember that it’s because there are people like Spc. White willing to stand in harm’s way that we are able to express the freedoms we hold so dear here at home.

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