Eric Griego returned home Thursday to the warm embrace of his 4-year-old daughter Rylie — a story we brought to you on Friday. Missing one lung and the top lobe of the other due to a combat injury in Afghanistan, the 22-year-old soldier from Mesa is one of the “lucky” ones.
He came home alive.
This year alone, at least 498 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan — more than the 486 who died in the first six years of the conflict combined. It brings the 10-year total in Afghanistan to 1,343, and comes alongside the war in Iraq, where 4,430 U.S. soldiers have died since 2003.
According to data compiled by the Associated Press, 132 of those service men and women listed Arizona as their home. And 21 came from right here in the East Valley.
Remember when such statistics shocked us? When the news that a family here had lost a loved one made headlines and galvanized a community?
Sadly, we’ve become numb to such news. The war has dragged on so long and the death toll has climbed so high that, unless we know a fallen soldier or his family personally, we’ve become immune to these tragic occurrences.
A Bloomberg national poll conducted in December asked voters what they saw as the most important issue facing the country right now. Unemployment/jobs, the federal deficit/spending and health care topped the list.
The war in Afghanistan garnered only 7 percent of the vote.
This comes at a time when the conflict in Iraq is nearing an end; the deadline for complete withdrawal of U.S. troops is the end of 2011. But in Afghanistan, President Obama has tripled the number of troops since 2008 to roughly 100,000.
To the families who have suffered losses, the only number that matters is 1.
One person who was taken from them. One person who will not be around to watch his or her children grow up. One person whose companionship and contributions to family and friends will sorely be missed.
One person we should never forget.
In the East Valley, we’ve listed each of the names of fallen soldiers below. Some, like Pat Tillman, are well-known. Others are known only to friends and family. But each gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our country.
Regardless of how you feel about our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t let the news of those who have died fighting for our country fall into the back of your consciousness. Remember each of their names.
And remember people like Eric Griego, who come home dealing with physical and emotional pains that most of us can only imagine.
They deserve as much.
EAST VALLEY CASUALTIES FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
Lt. Nathan D. White, 30, Mesa. Died April 2, 2003 in Iraq.
Sgt. Elijah Tai Wah Wong, 42, Mesa. Died Feb. 9, 2004 in Sinjar
Spec. Justin B. Onwordi, 28, Chandler. Died Aug. 2, 2004 in Baghdad
Spec. Andrew C. Ehrlich, 21, Mesa. Died Oct. 18, 2004 in Muqdadiyah
Hospitalman Robert N. Martens, 20, Queen Creek. Died Sept. 6, 2005 in Qaim
Sgt. Howard P. Allen, 31, Mesa. Died Sept. 26, 2005 in Baghdad
Spec. Jeremiah W. Robinson, 20, Mesa. Died Oct. 6, 2005 in Baghdad
Pfc. Joseph J. Duenas, 23, Mesa. Died March 30, 2006 in Kirkuk
Sgt. Jason J. Merrill, 22, Mesa. Died Sept. 3, 2006 in Baghdad.
Sgt. Nicholas R. Sowinski, 25, Tempe. Died Oct. 11, 2006 in Baghdad
Spec. Douglas C. Desjardins, 24, Mesa. Died Nov. 5, 2006 in Anbar province
Pvt. Kelly D. Youngblood, 19, Mesa. Died Feb. 18, 2007 in Anbar province
Sgt. Caleb P. Christopher, 25, Chandler. Died June 3, 2007 in Baghdad
Spec. Patrick D. Tillman, 27, Chandler. Died April 22, 2004 near Salerno
Staff Sgt. Brian S. Hobbs, 31, Mesa. Died Oct. 14, 2004 in Miam Do
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Hershel D. McCants Jr., 33, Mesa. Died Feb. 18, 2007 in southeastern Afghanistan
Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez-Castaneda, 19, Mesa. Died Aug. 14, 2008 in Helmand province
Capt. Cory J. Jenkins, 30, Mesa. Died Aug. 25, 2009 in Sha Wali Kot
Sgt. 1st Class Glen J. Whetten, 31, Mesa. Died March 3, 2010 near Kandahar
Pfc. Barbara Vieyra, 22, Mesa. Died Sept. 18, 2010 in the Kunar Province
Sgt. Aaron B. Cruttenden, 25, Mesa. Died Nov. 7, 2010 in the Kunar Province