Have Americans Forgotten Afghanistan?
As the U.S. grapples with sequestration, the economy, and other policy battles, the war has fallen (even farther) from view.
On January 20, men of the First Battalion 38th Infantry Regiment gathered at a frigid base camp in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. At Combat Outpost Sperwan Ghar in southern Kandahar, they held a memorial service for Army Sergeant David J. Chambers. A native of Hampton, Va., Chambers had been killed on January 16 by an improvised explosive device while on patrol. His commander said of him, "His subordinates trusted him, his peers learned from the example he set, and his superiors counted on him to get the job done." He had been wounded on a previous deployment to Afghanistan but he hadn't talked about this much because, as his mother said, "he never tried to worry us."
The day that the soldiers saluted their fallen comrade at Combat Outpost Sperwan Ghar, Sergeant Mark Schoonhoven died at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, from wounds suffered in Afghanistan. Schoonhoven was from Plainwell, Michigan. His mother and oldest daughter had sat by his hospital bed for nearly six weeks hoping he would recover from the coma. His wife had returned to Michigan to look after the five children at home. He never recovered from the injuries suffered when insurgents detonated explosives as his vehicle passed. At his funeral his wife and his mother received folded flags and each of his children put a rose on his coffin.
Other than local coverage, there was little attention paid to these deaths. Certainly there was little notice in Washington. In August 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressed his frustration over the absence of any discussion of the war in Afghanistan during the political campaigns. He explained at a Pentagon press briefing, "I thought it was important to remind the American people that there is a war going on."
This reminder takes on a great importance as Americans reflect on the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. As pundits and politicians debate the origins of that war, they will not dwell too long on the Afghanistan war that started a year and a half earlier -- and still continues.