When Christopher K.A. Slutman wasn’t wearing his U.S. Marine uniform he was pulling on his turnout gear and climbing onto Ladder 27 in the South Bronx, headed off to a car crash or fire call. But on Monday, Staff Sgt. Slutman wore his battle gear when the vehicle in which he and five other Marines were riding was blown up by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Delaware; Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pennsylvania; and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, New York, were killed, and three fellow soldiers were wounded.
Their deaths brought to seven the number of American military casualties in Afghanistan this year, with five more killed in Iraq since Jan. 1. Since American combat operations launched in 2001, 2,424 American service men and women have died in Afghanistan, 20,447 have been wounded, while 4,568 have died in Iraq and another 31,957 have been wounded. And those numbers don’t count thousands of soldiers from other countries, civilian contractors and Afghan and Iraqi civilians and soldiers who also have died.
We point this out as a reminder that service members are still dying in America’s endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The small numbers make it easy to overlook, to think that Americans are no longer in “harm’s way,” as politicians so often characterize combat or the targeted, unpredictable violence of hidden bombs and suicide bombers. In fact, Americans are operating in uniform in a dozen or more countries where they are at risk every minute of every day.
The thing about Sgt. Slutman — and many other men and women in military uniforms right now — is that his job back home also meant he put his life on the line for other people. Five years ago he was honored by the New York Fire Department for rescuing a woman from a burning apartment. Like his father before him, Slutman wore two uniforms — one military and one for the FDNY.
It’s worth taking a few minutes to think about the sacrifices made for us in faraway places. Slutman, Hines and Hendriks won’t be the last.