Tuesday, August 16, 2011
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Heroes Among Us
The entire Borough of Pitman was in mourning last week as one of their own young heroes was laid to rest.
Sgt. Alessandro 'Sandrino' Plutino was killed in action just weeks away from completing his sixth tour of duty as a U.S. Army Ranger. It was Plutino's third tour in Afghanistan after serving three in Iraq.
His term of service should have ended in March, but was extended by a special mission he felt necessary to complete. His country meant more to him than did his own life.
United States Army Rangers are elite members of the U.S. Army, tracing their roots to 1670 as a band of men trained to battle in the forests of this newly settled land. They first saw war action in the French and Indian Wars in 1676. They went on to fight in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the American Civil War.
Their original purpose was to complete a mission and then disband. The first time they were officially activated in the 20th Century was during World War II. The Rangers did not become a regular arm of the U.S. Army until the 1970s.
The 75th Ranger Regiment, of which Plutino was a member, is a special operations combat formation within U.S. Army Special Ops Command. Only applicants in top physical and mental condition meet the qualifications for selection in this elite group.
The training is the toughest of all schools a soldier can volunteer for, as those who complete it successfully become the leaders of the most difficult special missions. It includes exercises in extreme weather conditions across all terrain, Airborne school and the skills to remain both physically and mentally alert under the most difficult situations.
The Ranger Regiment specializes in raids and assault missions deep within enemy territory. They're experts in short-notice combat deployment. Among their skills are remaining undetected in a war.
Rangers carry out surprise strikes. They get to their designated area quickly and quietly, often by parachute.
You'll also find them conducting rescue and reconnaissance missions. Their ability to get in and out quickly, their endurance for long-distance movement and ability to remain undetected find them in places most others can't get to.
It was Rangers who penetrated the enemy beachhead in Normandy, France that forged a path for larger forces to enter.
Rangers converged on a medical facility in Grenada in 1983 to rescue Americans trapped by the uprising. Rangers took airfields and airports in Panama in 1989 during the Operation Just Cause mission to remove dictator General Manuel Noriega from power.
They've also suffered losses over the years such as Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. This story was recounted in the book and film "Blackhawk Down."
The Navy SEALs whose helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan earlier in August were rushing to the aid of Army Rangers under enemy fire while hunting a top Taliban commander.
This was the calling Plutino gave his life to serve. It was a calling he first felt at the age of four but held off following until graduating college under pressure from family and loved ones. Our thoughts and sympathy go out to the Plutino family along with all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Helping Those Who Serve
Ever since September 11, 2001, more and more of America's finest are dedicating their lives to assuring a tragedy of the likes will never again occur on our shores. One common thread among them is a calling to a higher purpose in life.
I grew up in the Vietnam era. Young men were drafted into service, few volunteered. Women were not yet permitted on the battlefield. The war was not popular and citizens blamed not only our leaders, but also the men who were forced to serve.
This is a different era. With the smoldering images of what was once the World Trade Center emblazoned in their minds, young people are realizing that freedom has a price. It's an image they don't want their children to have to see in their lifetime. And the bravest among them are rising to do their part in making sure they never will.
But unlike Vietnam, these soldiers are returning home to the hero's welcome they deserve.
Yet while they're deployed, life is anything but idyllic. You might think their personal safety would be their biggest concern. You would be wrong.
When asked what weighed most on the minds of deployed service men and women, it was overwhelmingly their family at home.
The homebound spouse became both the mother and the father. They had to assume the responsibilities of the deployed soldier along with their own. They had to handle each crisis that arose on their own. And they had to juggle daily life in the midst of it all.
Military families face different hurdles than civilians. Deployment is harsh. Families have to reconnect after being separated for long periods of time. They have to re-learn behaving as a family unit.
The stresses of battle leave many soldiers psychologically scarred. Adjusting to domestic life can be difficult when you've spent the last year sleeping with your eyes open, rifle in hand - ready to fire at whatever threat looms in the dark.
Immediately following the September 11th attacks, President Bush called on all Americans to serve their communities, their Nation and their world. He created the USA Freedom Corps to connect Americans with opportunities to serve their country and to foster a culture of citizenship, responsibility and service.
President Obama is continuing this tradition by proclaiming September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. There's no better time to begin a practice of serving others that you can carry on throughout life.
And who better to serve than those that sacrifice everything for the freedoms that we enjoy.
There are many ways you can serve military families. The search box on any of the volunteer websites listed in today's web highlights will lead you to community groups devoted to these efforts.
But you may find opportunity even closer at hand. Do you know of a local family with a deployed member? If not, ask at your church or your kids' school. Connect with military families and find out what they need. Perhaps they could use a day off car pooling, or help with grocery shopping. Maybe their lawn needs tending. Or possibly they need someone to watch the kids to give them a break for a night.
The stock market plummeted with the aftermath of Standard & Poor's downgrade of U.S. Treasury debt to AA+ from AAA. The S&P ratings range from AAA to D. S&P defines AAA as: "Extremely strong capacity to meet financial commitments." AA is defined as: "Very strong capacity to meet financial commitments." BB is the first level "below investment grade" and considered "highly speculative." A rating of D is defined as "Payment default on financial commitment," or losses are expected. The other ratings use different letter/numbers to indicate similar levels.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up to $12,724 on July 21, dropping to $10,810 last week, and then jumping back up to $11,240 the next day. At the writing of this article, the DOW is at $11,415. Obama sees the rating change as the incentive to cut debt. On Tuesday last week, the Fed said that a "somewhat slower pace of recovery" is expected with the unemployment rate declining "only gradually." In order to fortify the economy, the Fed said that "economic conditions â€¦ are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013." This comment seems to have provided stability that that stock market likes! Most of us would rather better news, but the unknown appears to be the big enemy of the stock market. And the ride continues!
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