One of the recently rediscovered joys of having a longer commute is having quality time with my thoughts, my coffee, and Iowa Public Radio. Rather than its usual classical music, the FM station is still playing news at the time I'm up and moving. This means I get to avoid the low nighttime power of the AM band, which is further degraded by the power lines running alongside this county highway. I'm Army-trained to hear past the static, of course, but switching from AM to FM is like a switching from Speed Metal to Cool Jazz.
The local announcer hits just the right tone of concern and regret when she teases the upcoming top-of-the-hour news. It's what she says that throws me into an emotional skid:
"An Iowa soldier died in Afghanistan Tuesday ..."
I hate it when they do that. Yes, I hate it when anybody dies, and I realize that's the bigger-picture, larger-issue here. And, no, I don't take fault at those in the news media for doing their jobs. But I hate it when radio or TV broadcasters don't give enough of the who, what, where, and when to avoid causing unnecessary distress for those of us with buddies and loved ones downrange.
Now, I have to drive 10 long minutes to find out what the newscaster meant by "Iowa soldier." I start mentally tallying, by unit or individual, who the Iowa Army National Guard has downrange right now. The media often messes up the distinction between active-duty, reserve, and National Guard soldiers. We're all one Army, one Total Force, but we're also different organizations. It'd be like the news media teasing listeners with "A car manufacturer recalled thousands of dangerously flawed vehicles today ..." Think you could be a little more specific?
The newscaster could've spared me and the families of other soldiers minutes of agony this morning. She could have been more specific. She could have said "an active-duty Iowa soldier" or "An Iowa Army National Guard soldier ..." or "A U.S. Army Reserve soldier on active-duty ..." Editors and reporters don't often think about that, however. Not many of them are prior service anymore, or have direct experience reporting on the military. (On the record as both a soldier and a reader, however, I have to say that I think Bill Petroski at the Des Moines Register is doing a good job.)
Army Capt. Daniel P. Whitten, 28, of Grimes, Iowa, and Pvt. Zachary G. Lovejoy, 20, of Albuquerque, N.M., were killed Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, when their mounted patrol in the southern Afghan province of Zabul was attacked with an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) Whitten was a 1999 graduate of Johnston (Iowa) High School, where he played football and worked on the student newspaper. He was a 2004 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he double-majored in mathematics and English. He was a paratrooper and company commander, a soldier who wore the distinctive maroon beret of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was on his third deployment, his second to Afghanistan. He is survived by his wife, and his parents. News reports indicate that his family will bury his remains at West Point.
Here's a Des Moines Register excerpt:
"[Whitten] was the kid who was always doing the right thing. He always stood by his values, and was true to his family and himself. He was the kind of young man who you hoped your own kids would grow up to represent," said Stratton, who acknowledged he was struggling today to come to grips with Whitten's death.Here's a WHO-TV excerpt:
"When I think about kids who are thinking about going into the military, the one thing about Dan is that I always trusted his character as a person who I would want representing our country," Stratton said.
Family friend and former Pastor Bob Solberg says Dan was a "real man amongst men." Even as a youngster at Zion Lutheran Church in Des Moines, he knew Dan was destined for great things and believes he found his calling at West Point. He says Dan "had the gift of leadership, the gift of humility, and the gift of honor." News of his death is still hard to believe. "I just really have a hard time believing that he's gone really at the prime of his life," says Solberg.I didn't know Capt. Whitten, but I drive past his former high school and his hometown every day. I'll try to use those fleeting encounters for some radio-less reflection in the coming days, cold and dark as they are sure to be. Earlier today an on-line friend of mine, Aunty Brat, just happened to point me to a prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was said to have carried with her at all times. I'd like to share that with you below. I like it because it's simple, and it's a quiet call to action. (I'd also invite you to see what Aunty Brat said about it here.)
Lest I continue
My complacent way,
Help me to remember that somewhere,
Somehow out there
A man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I then must
Ask and answer
Am I worth dying for?