Leibo At Large: Remembering Arizona heroes in Afghanistan

By David Leibowitz

The scroll of the dead contains 49 names: 48 men and a woman killed between April 2004 and December 2014 in Afghanistan. To my way of thinking, each of these Arizonans is a hero — a neighbor of ours, a defender of freedom, killed nearly 8,000 miles away in a fetid foreign hell.

That sad war ended in a blitz of disgraceful images showing the Taliban taking hold and Afghan civilians opting to die now rather now than face the torture and mayhem sure to come. Pundits branded the war a stain on America not seen since Vietnam.

I am not here to debate history. Instead, let’s take a moment to remember the dead. It is the very least we owe them in return for their epic sacrifice.

Spec. Patrick D. Tillman and Staff Sgt. Brian S. Hobbs died in 2004.

Lance Corp. Kevin B. Joyce and Sgt. Kenneth G. Ross died in 2005.

Chief Warrant Officer Hershel D. McCants Jr., Sgt. Charles R. Browning, Pfc. Mykiel F. Miller and Spec. Hugo V. Mendoza died in 2007.

Pfc. Ara T. Deysie, Hospitalman Dustin K. Burnett, Lance Corp. Juan Castaneda-Lopez, Pvt. Joseph F. Gonzales and Corp. Charles P. Gaffney Jr. died in 2008.

In 2009, we lost Master Sgt. David L. Hurt, Staff Sgt. Timothy L. Bowles, Spec. Adam J. Hardt, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Lindstrom, Capt. Cory J. Jenkins, Sgt. Thomas Rabjohn and Sgt. Justin Gallegos.

The deadliest year was 2010. The killed included Spec. Robert Donevski, Lance Cpl. Alejandro J. Yazzie, Sfc. Glen J. Whetten, Spec. Christian Adams, Sgt. John M. Rogers, Sgt. Martin A. Lugo, Pfc. Barbara Vieyra, Sfc. Todd M. Harris, Lance Corp. Matthew J. Broehm, Lance Corp. Randy R. Braggs and Sgt. Aaron B. Cruttenden.

In 2011, Pfc. Dustin J. Feldhaus, Pfc. John C. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Martin R. Apolinar, Staff Sgt. Donald V. Stacy, Spec. Michael D. Elm and Sfc. Johnathan B. McCain died.

In 2012, Corp. Phillip D. McGeath, First Lt. Alejo R. Thompson, Sfc. Barrett W. McNabb, Staff Sgt. Carl E. Hammar, Staff Sgt. Richard L. Berry, Staff Sgt. Orion N. Sparks and Sfc. Ryan J. Savard died.

The bloodshed ebbed in 2013. The dead: Staff Sgt. Jonathan D. Davis, Second Lt. Justin L. Sisson, First Lt. Jonam Russell and CWO Joshua B. Silverman.

Operation Enduring Freedom ended on the last day of 2014, but not before the death of Spec. Wyatt J. Martin, a 22-year-old from Mesa killed two weeks before Christmas.

These 49 obituaries are full of details about these heroes: how Kevin Joyce, 19 when he died, was the guy his fellow Marines turned to when they’d been dealt a lousy MRE for dinner. Joyce kept extras in his locker and was always happy to trade.

Corp. Gaffney, 42 and a father of two, told a family friend he re-enlisted “for the women of Afghanistan.” Gaffney said, “the women of Afghanistan are so mistreated, they’re not really people like we are in this country.”

Sgt. 1st Class McNabb hailed from Chino Valley. He went by the nickname “Bear.”

Martin Apolinar attended Trevor Browne High School, where his fellow seniors voted him “Prettiest Eyes.”

He enlisted in the Army in 2004 and earned his Special Forces qualification at Fort Bragg. In Iraq, he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Apolinar’s final deployment was to Wardak Province in Afghanistan, where his vehicle was decimated by an improvised explosive device. He died at 29, leaving behind a wife and a son.

In a perfect world, we would never have lost this war. In a better world, each of us would remember forever the 49 Arizonans who never came home from hell.