Numbers take on different significance to different people. A number, afterall is relative. To some, $100 could be their Starbucks budget for the month, to others, $100 could mean they feed their children everyday, or not.
Milestone numbers are also relative and are especially hard for those directly involved. If you had a loved one deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since October 2001, 1000 US deaths in Afghanistan is significant, if not, this news will not likely land on your radar. The deployments are minutes and days and weeks and months of worry. Those whose loved ones came home, they may think "by the grace of God my loved one came home". For those of us whose loved one did not come home, it doesn't matter if it is the 1000th death, or the 1st or the 818th. Each announced casualty is painful as we relive the day we received our news.
Some will point out that the 1000th US casualty didn't occur in Iraq until 18 months after the March 2003 invasion. In comparison, it has taken 9 and 1/2 years in Afghanistan. Some will say, "neither number is very big, look at how many died in WWII or Vietnam." But ask any family member or friend of the nearly 5400 US casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I suspect, an answer often heard would be "any number more than zero was too many". For that matter, ask any of the loved ones of the Coalition casualties or the Iraqi or Afghanistan civilian casualties. If you've lost a loved one to war, especially a war that you didn't support, 1 is really the only number that matters; 1 is the significant number.
I am not far from 6 years when I got the knock on the door. I am nearly 6 years away from the initial shock and numbness from receiving the news that my only child was never coming home. I wouldn't wish this unimaginable life on anyone. For those families who are getting the devastating news now, my thoughts are with them. How their lives will turn upside down and inside out in one second. The second before the knock on the door, life was normal. They were baking, or working, or getting ready to go to bed or starting their day and that knock changes everything. Everything! Today, as icasualties.org posted the 1000th US casualty in Afghanistan, we are painfully aware that another family has received the news.
This traumatic event will result in some family members suffering from PTSD or secondary PTSD and we will suffer the sleeplessness and the nightmares and feelings of intense distress. Our trauma is, of course, different than those in combat, but we will suffer, too. Burying a child is not what nature intended, the concept so foreign that there is not a word for a parent whose child has died. Children who lose their parents are orphans, husbands who lose their wives are widowers, and wives who lose their husbands are called widows. And losing a child is too painful to even assign a word.
On the eve of this terrible milestone death, Bloomberg reported that General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia, said U.S. losses in Afghanistan will be “tough” and the U.S. presence there is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. I wonder what "tough" means in numbers.
At this 1000 casualty milestone, take a minute to think of the parents and the siblings, the children, and the friends. Each one of these young men and women was loved, every life unfulfilled, every promise for the future is dashed. But mostly, these young men and women stepped forward to serve their country at a time when so many others choose to stay behind. Regardless of your feelings about these wars, we must never forget the sacrifice and we must never forget the human cost of war.
1000 was too many in Iraq and 1000 is too many in Afghanistan. It's time to bring the troops home.