Remembering Why We Are Here
The following was delivered by Fr. Mark Mastin, an SCJ serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, stationed in Afghanistan. The words were for a remembrance ceremony for those who have died as a result of the September 11, 2011, terrorist attacks.
There are some 37 million plus reasons to remember why we are here in Afghanistan continuing our mission of Operation Enduring Freedom with our coalition partners. Don’t worry; I’ll make sure I condense these 37 million reasons into just a few short hours!!!
But seriously, let me describe to you these reasons. First and foremost, of these millions, 3, 497 Americans directly and immediately died in the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. More died later as a result of injuries or medical complications in later months and years. Second, and of equal importance is the number 2,135. This is how many U.S. Soldiers have died in Afghanistan from 2001 to 05 September of 2013. This does not include the 19, 250 thousand U.S. Soldiers who have been wounded.
Third, is the number 1, 101. This is the number of Coalition Soldiers from 29 countries that have died. It likewise does not account for their wounded. We are forever grateful for our coalition partners. For they too have suffered and feel the same as we do about freedom and about our mission.
Fourth, is the estimated 16,000 plus Afghan civilians who have died since 2006 and the thousands that have been wounded insurgents.
Finally, I give you a statistic that cannot be thoroughly described or calculated. It is the number 37 million. For this is the number of Afghans whom now have an opportunity to experience and fight to keep real freedom and become the people that God meant for them to be.
In the end, it is not the statistics that we frankly want to read or care about. What we do care about is that behind these numbers and statistics were real human beings. They were fathers and mothers, sons and daughters whom will never be able to enjoy a future life here on earth. Even though we may not know their names or have seen their faces, we continue to honor our fallen fellow Americans and coalition partners through our efforts to encourage and support the Afghan people in experiencing their inalienable and inherent God given right for freedom.
It is this desire of freedom that many young Afghans want to keep. They asked me to pass this message onto you:
‘We thank you helping us gain this new form of freedom. Sadly, at the same time, we read some American news sources on the internet that portray us in a very negative way. We are not terrorists. We do not hate Americans or your coalition partners. We are peaceful and loving people. In many cases, we read that some Americans say that coming here to help us was a waste of lives, time, and money.’
‘We are saddened for the loss of life. The Soldier’s deaths were and are not in vain. Also, we believe that the time, money and efforts that you have and continue to place into our country are not wasted. All of this has made a real difference in the quality of our lives. We are grateful for these efforts. What you have done for us cannot be measured or priced when it comes to freedom.’
‘When you came to our country, most of us had no running water or electricity. We did not have the internet or cell phones or know about the outside world. We did not have schools that we could go to. In fact, if schools existed, there were militant elements that prevented us from being educated. Thanks to you, we now have universities to attend and to study in, for both men and women. We now know the truth of the peaceful and non-violence message that our Holy Scriptures teach us, which was kept from us. We were told how to look, what to wear and where to go. We now know what positive direction we want to go. Some of us have a dream to become American citizens.’
As you can see, such statements from these young men indeed describe that the sowing of the seeds of freedom have been planted and have begun to grow. It is our hope and prayers that these grains of freedom will feed a hungry Afghan nation.
I close with these two statements about remembering why we are here by two American literary icons. William Faulkner said: “we are not free because we claim freedom, but we are free because we practice it.” And Abraham Lincoln remarked: “those who deny Freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
And so, let us pray, Dear God please bless all Americans this day, bless our coalition partners, bless the Afghan people. May God continue to keep all of us safe and free from harm, and may our families and friends be protected as well, as they await the joyful hope of our coming home. And one more thing, bless those who will participate in tonights cross fit competition. For it will be their competitive spirit that will give us all a sense of inspiration to this solemn occasion. Amen.