October 2006 ARCHIVE
How Quickly We Have Come to Accept Female Casualities in War

On Sept. 8, 2006, Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard was killed while on duty in Afghanistan. She had been assigned to the 364th Civil Affairs Brigade which was tasked with rebuilding roads and water systems.

Sgt. Howard was killed when a car bomb exploded near a military Humvee in which she was riding. She was 52 years old, which makes her the oldest female casuality of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When she traveled with her unit, Sgt. Howard manned an M-240 machine gun. Yet, the Army consistently tells the American public that women are only positioned in areas of safety, and not exposed to battle.

She was a fearless United States soldier in a country where women are treated like chattel. Sgt. Howard served as a liaison between the Afghan people and the military. She once assisted in an Army film production about the military and the Afghan people. In the film, she is seen handing out candy to children.

Recently there was an article in the paper on women who have been killed while on duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m still haunted by their smiling faces in the photos that accompanied the article.

It is surprising how easily Americans have come to accept the fact of women dying in service. It wasn’t too long ago that conventional wisdom said Americans would never accept it if the military put their daughters in the line of fire.

Unlike World War II, we seem to not be overtly concerned about the dangers our soldiers face in these terrorist wars. Our soldiers are not well prepared or protected. They are given partial body armor; they ride in tanks that are only partially plated; they freeze in the winter and expire from the heat in the summer. Their world is riddled with danger where everyone they encounter is a potential enemy.

Meanwhile, President Bush has told us to go shopping.

What compounds these losses is the ripple affect each one has into the circles of their families — children, parents and spouses. That and the waste of human potential. Among the more than 2500 dead were future firemen, teachers, economists, ecologists, leaders, philosophers, preachers, heroes, fathers, brothers, sisters, and mothers. Each death robs America of possibilities. A voice is silenced at picnics, dinner tables and prayer.

Of course, America cares. We all care, but this brutal war is beyond our understanding. We grieve, but no one is listening. Those who lift a voice calling for a change are called unpatriotic and worse. In silence, we read the statistics, we see their young faces, read the death counts, and we turn away in sorrow and frustration.

We must defeat terrorism. We must fight. And we must lift our voices in sorrow each time a soldier is mortally wounded. America must demand that our military provide substantial military protection for all soldiers.

Our current approach to war is not working. The Taliban has returned to Afghanistan. Terrorists are flocking to Iraq.

It is time to seek another way. When a strategy is not working, it must be replaced with a better plan, another approach. Still, Washington will not vary from this outdated policy. They are not listening.

Should we negotiate with terrorists? Should we insist on the laws of America be up held? Why waste our time? We have seen what they do to each other, men, women, and children. They burn down schools that teach women to read. They kill each other as they worship. They behead all. They will attack us to kill and maim each American citizen. We must take action.

If we send our daughters and sons off to an ill-planned war without proper protection are we not emboldening the enemy? In a more subtle way are we encouraging child molesters and rampages by the criminally insane at our schools? Do we turn our backs when people of power abuse children?

Are we good parents? Why is our younger generation so chaotic? If we do not value their lives, will they value their lives…or ours? Whether it is a daughter or a son, it is too much to sacrifice to a war going in the wrong direction.

Sgt. Meredith Howard leaves behind a new husband. They married just before she was shipped to Iraq. She will no longer stand beside him. He will no more experience the joy of her company.

He owns a fireworks company, and told the Los Angeles Times that, at his late wife’s request, her ashes will be mixed into rockets that he will explode over the ocean.