A great idea from our correspondent in Afghanistan
It was a tongue-in-cheek exchange among members of our editorial board. One suggested an editorial on the topic of veterans to run Thursday, Veterans Day. But he lacked a specific focus.
Try this, one editor suggested:
1. We're in favor of Veterans Day.
2. We support our veterans.
The editorial that ran Thursday made that patently clear, of course, encouraging all of us to "think of those lost, but don't forget about those who are still with us and those who still serve."
That electronic discussion really hit home with me because the following day, I received the latest column from Lt. Matthew Spartz, a Lombard resident now serving with the Army 101st Airborne in Afghanistan.
Matt is a 2008 journalism graduate of the University of Illinois, and he's been sending dispatches since he was deployed in May. So, even though we're now a day past the official Veteran's Day commemoration, in keeping with the spirit of our Veteran's Day editorial, this seemed a particularly opportune time to say a few words about Matt.
I'd love to tell you we dreamed up the idea of trying to find a local person serving abroad who could share his insights with unparalleled eloquence. That we looked high and low for such a person until we found Matt.
Well, Matt found us.
In an e-mail to Executive Editor Madeleine Doubek, Matt pitched the idea several months ago of writing for us.
"I have read the Daily Herald all of my life, and I know the local perspective and vast reach of your readership," he wrote. "I believe having a local resident currently serving in the Army in Afghanistan is a great way to localize one of the biggest international issues your readers are concerned about, not to mention the general human-interest angle that nonmilitary families have in learning more about life in the armed forces."
Oh, and he'd work for free. How could we say no to that?
A football player at Glenbard East High School, Matt detailed his eagerness in his first column to "get off the bench." Once in Afghanistan, he describes a soldier's day at war as "10 percent horrible, frightening violence and 90 percent horrible, excruciating boredom."
He hasn't been afraid to share his view on the worthiness of the war: "We can 'win.' We can make Afghanistan a better place for its citizens. We will come home. But it's going to take time and money. Do we have enough of both? Yes, if we decide to do whatever it takes."
On a soldier's mission: "Our legacy won't be of epic battles, but of the individual soldier's ability to accomplish any mission he is asked to do. An infantryman runs and rucks hundreds of miles of hardened terrain, shoots thousands of bullets, and develops orders to close in and destroy the enemy. Here, he is told to build a well for a village, so he does it."
And, today, on the page opposite this one. Matt shares some personal stuff. I think it's one of his best columns. He was feeling a bit down, maybe even a little sorry for himself. But he was quickly buoyed by the arrival of letters from home, homemade jam from his girlfriend, football games on DVD. He points out how all the troops respond in kind to the mail truck, and he offers some very practical suggestions on sending those care packages to our troops.
As Matt points out: "Soldiers gladly will continue to stand guard in a distant land as long as our families keep walking to the mailbox."
That certainly isn't too much to ask. Of all of us.