No reminder was needed, but it came anyway -- two more war deaths touching Western New York families. The recent losses of Pfc. Albert R. Jex, a Lockport native killed in an Iraq suicide bombing, and Sgt. 1st Class Raymond J. Munden, killed in Afghanistan when his unit came under rocket attack, bring fresh pain to years of losses in the wars that followed 9/1 1.
Jex, awarded the Bronze Star and promoted posthumously to specialist, was a young man who pursued his dream of joining the Army. But the 23-year-old knew the risks, and had the realistic perspective to discuss the possibility of his death with his family while he was home at Thanksgiving on leave from Fort Hood, Texas, where he had been stationed with the 1st Cavalry Division.
Munden, 35, originally from Mesquite, Texas, was on his fourth combat-zone tour with the Army. Married to a Cheektowaga woman, he is to be buried here. Another Bonze Star recipient, he was on his second tour in Afghanistan after having served twice in Iraq -- and was looking forward to an assignment at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as an instructor, which was to have occurred around March 10.
Once again, these are stories not just of soldiers lost but of families devastated, of children left behind, of grieving wives, mothers, fathers and siblings. No pledge to bring American troops home can ease that sorrow now. Planned withdrawals from Iraq can limit only future losses there, but Afghanistan still poses a long-term problem.
As it stands, at least 580 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. Of those, the military reports 425 were killed by hostile action.
American casualties in Iraq have fallen to some of their lowest levels of the war since thousands of Sunnis abandoned the insurgency and the United States and Iraqi forces routed Shiite militias in Baghdad and Basra last spring. Just five of the 16 American service members who died in Iraq last month were killed in action. According to an Associated Press count, at least 4,243 U.S. military members have now died since the Iraq war began in March 2003.
The deaths of Jex and Munden bring this area's loss total to nearly 40. Each loss is a tragedy for the families, and a reminder to all of us of the pain of this war and the sacrifices our servicemen and servicewomen are called upon to make.