2007-07-27 / Columnists

Meeks Message From Capitol Hill

Surge In Casualties
Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MEEKS GREGORY MEEKS At the end of March and again earlier this month, the House of Representatives enacted legislation that would redeploy and reduce our combat forces in Iraq. That's about 90 days. The president vetoed the first bill and Republicans in the Senate prevented consideration of the second. During that time, three Sixth Congressional Districts constituents perished in Iraq - about one fatality a month. There are 435 congressional districts. If what we've experienced so far here in the Sixth Congressional District were to hold true for every congressional district over the three months that remain until General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker report to Congress on the effectiveness of the surge, America would suffer more than 1,300 additional combat fatalities.

The last Sixth Congressional District constituent to die in Iraq was Le Ron Wilson. By all accounts and by his record of bravery and achievement Iraq, he was the cream of the crop. He had an infectious smile that went along with a quick mind. His father said his son was "bright as a bulb."

Le Ron, deeply respected his father and profoundly loved his mother. Perhaps inspired by the example of his father, who is one of Trinidad and Tobago's longestserving military officers, Wilson had come to America with his mother as an 11- year-old immigrant but dreamed of joining the U.S. Army as a way of helping his mother and serving his Southeast Queens community as well as his adopted country. So, at the tender age of seventeen, in fact, as his birthday present, he persuaded his mother to sign enlistment papers permitting him to join the army prior to reaching the mandatory enlistment age of 18. During basic training and afterwards during deployment, Le Ron's leadership potential became manifestly evident. His was trained as a weapons repair specialist, earned two promotions, and was twice recognized by his battalion as "soldier of the month." He not only possessed technical skills, but also displayed the gifts to be an outstanding leader - inside or outside of the military.

Le Ron was shipped off to Iraq about the time President Bush vetoed the first "change of course" legislation passed by the House and Senate. Private First Class Le Ron Wilson was following the orders of the commanderin chief, even though he himself hadn't an opportunity to vote for a commander in-chief who thought enough of those who follow his orders to issue orders worthy of the outstanding men and women who step forward and fight with distinction. Le Ron was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on July 6.

I had an American flag flown at halfmast over the Capitol Building in his honor. I made sure it was presented to his parents during the funeral service at Christ the King Church in Springfield Gardens. I could not be there because Congress was in session, still trying to find a way to compel President Bush to change course in Iraq. But, I did speak with his mother. I'm sure Le Ron's parents were grateful for the expression of sympathy on behalf of a grateful nation but you and I know that neither words, nor medals, nor even the flag can soothe their pain or fill the infinite chasm that the death of their son has opened in their hearts.

Twenty Queens residents in all have been killed in Iraq. With two exceptions, all were under 30 years of age.

At least two or three times a week over the past few years, The News- Hour (which airs on Channel 13 and Channel 21) closes its broadcast in silence while displaying the names, photos, ages, rank, and hometowns of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the faces in the photos were 18, 19, 20, 21, or 22 years old. Infrequently, there's an "old" soldier in his or her 30's or 40's. Regardless of age, each one is somebody's son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife.

Then there are the tens of thousands of American troops wounded in this war, many with catastrophic injuries from which they will never recover enough to resume a normal life. And what about the tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi wounded and injured, the millions of Iraqis internally displaced or in refugee camps in neighboring countries?

From the beginning I opposed this war, but I have supported these soldier-constituents and the warriors with whom they served by voting for every supplemental appropriation bill to come before the House. Those votes funded our troops but failed to bring them home. All I can say is that I will keep trying.

On an unrelated note, I have on occasion been critical of police officers who used excessive force but that criticism does not in any way minimize the exceptional job and sometimes the exceptional sacrifice that most New York City police officers routinely make. Twenty-three-year-old Russel Timoshenko was one such officer. He was shot during a routine car stop by career criminals wielding illegal weapons. Officer Timoshenko later died of his wounds. Like many of the soldiers in The NewsHour's moment of silence, Officer Timoshenko was 23, and someone's son, brother, and boyfriend. I extend my sincere and heartfelt sympathies to his family, fellow officers, and friends.

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