FORT BENNING, Ga. (Sept. 18, 2009) -- If there is a day to put away petty gripes, it is today. Each year, the third Friday of September is set aside to honor our prisoners of war and missing in action.
It is a time to reflect on their sacrifices and remember their stories.
"Staff Sgt. Keith 'Matt' Maupin, we are still looking for you and we will find you" was a frequent phrase in military newsletters downrange and on Web sites devoted to his memory in the days after his capture in Iraq April 16, 2004.
As time went on, the phrase took on a new meaning. It was a mantra for those who refused to leave a Soldier behind. As Soldiers came and went in Iraq, the saying remained, carrying his memory on and reminding us what it truly means to never leave a comrade behind: Honor their memory, take up the torch and share their story.
So I would like to share one with you.
Sgt. Ahmed Altaie was more than a translator. I met him when I was a young sergeant deployed to Iraq with the 363rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment out of St. Louis in late 2005.
Our small Army Reserve unit was attached to the 4th Infantry Division for 12 months and Altaie was one of a handful of translators we relied on to help us get our job done. He was an Iraqi-American, mentor and friend.
He was two weeks away from completing his deployment with 4th Infantry Division when he was kidnapped in Baghdad Oct. 23, 2006.
The news came as a shock to those of us who knew him. He was a calm, quiet, intelligent man who called Ann Arbor, Mich., home and was devoted to his wife. He immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and joined the Army Reserve in 2004.
As a fellow Reserve Soldier, he fit right in with us. He spent six months working in our media operations office at Camp Liberty.
I remember his everlasting patience with younger, inexperienced interpreters who kept coming around for help with Arabic translations. He was in high demand in our office full of journalists and broadcasters. When I needed an interpreter for a story, I always hoped it would be him. More often than not, it wasn't.
What I know of Altaie is not much, what I know of other POWs and those missing in action is even less. But I will spend this day learning of their bravery in the face of adversity.
More than 10,000 American servicemembers have been listed as missing in action since World War I, according to the Fort Benning Sergeants Major Association.
Thousands more have been incarcerated as prisoners of war. Take time today to think about what our prisoners of war and missing in action have gone through and continue to go through.
Today is their day, so make it count.
(Kristin Molinaro wrote this commentary originally for The Bayonet newspaper at Fort Benning, Ga. The Fort Benning Sergeants Major Association will conduct the sixth annual Tricommunity POW/MIA Motorcycle Freedom Ride beginning at 10:15 a.m. Saturday at the National Infantry Museum. The ride is in conjunction with the Phenix City POW/MIA Memorial Dedication in which a monument to POWs and MIAs will be unveiled. Speakers will include Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, post commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Walker, the U.S. Army Infantry School command sergeant major and president of the Sergeants Major Association.)