Bruce Coulter: Combat deaths are more than numbers

Bruce Coulter

Combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in the deaths of more than 4,800 American servicemen and women. But until death strikes home, the numbers are just that – numbers.

When word of Army Pfc. Jonathan Roberge’s death reached Leominster, Mass., city officials quickly stepped forward to assist the Roberge family during a time of grief, and to welcome Leominster’s fallen son – the city’s first serviceman to lose his life since the war’s onset – home with love and honor.

He was one of four American soldiers killed Feb. 9 when a suicide bomber pulled up next to the soldiers’ Humvee in Mosul, Iraq, and detonated his explosive load.

I was one of some 1,500 people who attended a candlelight vigil to pay respect to this young man – a baby really – of 22.

Roberge left behind his parents, two sisters and a brother – and a life of infinite possibilities. Whether he chose to make a career of the military, or return to civvy street, we’ll never know how many lives Jonathan would have touched – beyond the throngs who turned out to honor him – had he lived.

He’ll never know the thrill of graduating from college; the joy of saying, “I do” to his bride to be; or the panic, pride and worry of becoming a father.

The next time you read about another serviceman or woman losing their life in combat, put a face to that name. Ignore the number. Rather, think of what could have been.

Camp Lejeune drinking water

Anyone who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune in 1987 or before should register with the Marines Corps to receive notifications regarding the drinking water on the base.

In the early 1980s, trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), both unregulated solvents at the time, were found in two water systems serving the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point areas. Certain drinking water wells were identified as the source of the chemicals and were taken out of service in 1984 and 1985.

Two independent research initiatives are being funded by the Department of the Navy. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is conducting a health study to see if there is an association between exposure to the water and certain adverse health effects and The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is conducting a comprehensive review of scientific literature and potential health risks related to exposures at Camp Lejeune.

When the research is completed, the Marine Corps will directly notify those on the registry through mail and e-mail.

If you’d like to register, visit www.marines.mil/clsurvey or call the Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water Call Center at 877-261-9782, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.

At the Web site, readers can also download a claims packet to assist potential claimants with filing a claim, information on research initiatives or download a brochure with the most up to date information on this issue.

Veterans stick together

It’s no secret municipal budgets are stretched thin these days. In North Carolina, Jacksonville Daily News’ reporter Molly DeWitt recently wrote that the Onslow County Department of Veterans Services had to return more than $1,000 because of budget cuts.

Upon learning of the cuts, veteran Larry Woods took up a collection at his office in Jacksonville’s Employment Security Commission and donated more than $200 to the Veterans’ Services office.

Thanks to his efforts, another veteran, who remains anonymous, wrote a personal check for $1,500 to help cover the shortfall.

I’d like to thank North Carolina veterans for stepping up when it counts. It’s not uncommon for veterans to stick together. It’s nice to see their efforts recognized.

Bruce Coulter is the editor of the Burlington Union and a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at 978-371-5775, or by e-mail at bcoulter@cnc.com.