Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

The truth behind the “ultimate sacrifice”

Whether it be called Fort Vancouver, or just plain Vancouver, Washington, this is a community that places a high value on service to one’s country.

Nearly 2,400 Washingtonians are stationed at posts throughout the world. Only last August, nearly 150 Clark County residents returned home from battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, with about a hundred remaining behind enemy lines.

On this Veterans Day, many Americans will remember the sacrifices and services of wars and military actions past. However, this year also brings sobering reflection on the ever-increasing list of perils facing our servicemen and women stationed abroad, and tragically and inexplicably, here at home as well.

What we term the “ultimate sacrifice” may seem poetic, full of much-deserved honor, dignity and respect. But underlying this phrase is the gritty reality of death, often inglorious, tragic and incomprehensible.

Politics aside, as President Obama prepares to decide the future course of this $231 billion (and counting) Afghan conflict, here’s a number, amongst many others, for him to keep in mind – 18.

That’s the number of Washingtonians killed in Afghanistan, including 25-year-old U.S. Army PFC Christopher “Ian” Walz, a Hudson’s Bay Graduate, Clark College student and a longtime Vancouver WinCo market employee with dreams of experiencing the wider world beyond his hometown.

“He really just wanted to travel, and he found the military was a way to do that,” WinCo produce department supervisor Shane Budge told the VBJ this week. “He had the travel bug.”

On Oct. 27, Walz was killed when his military vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. He was the eighth soldier stationed at Fort Lewis to die on the same day in an eight-year Afghan war against an insurgency growing bolder and deadlier with each new deployment of fresh American troops.

Back in Hazel Dell, Budge remembers Walz as a diligent employee, always smiling, with a laugh that he said stays with many employees at the store – many of whom worked with the fallen soldier for close to six years.

“I’ll always remember him as a good kid,” he said.

There’s something else Budge recalls clearly: Walz’ enthusiasm regarding Obama’s historic candidacy last year, made all the more poignant since it was the President who greeted this fallen soldier upon his return on his final voyage home.