I was checking my voicemail as I was walking out to my car last night, and found that my wife had called and left a message. “I have some really sad news. Remember Nick and Jennifer? Nick was killed today. They say it was a suicide bomber. This is really sad.”
I can’t claim to have known Nick personally. I may have met him once or twice. I knew him vicariously through conversations that we had at home. My wife, a photographer, would have photo sessions with the Rozanski’s on a regular basis; she started with their engagement, then their wedding, and now whenever Nick was home they would do family sessions with the girls. Occasionally when Nick was deployed Jenny would have some photos done so he could see his two girls growing up.
Of all of the clients that Penney has, the Rozanski’s were the ones that dominated conversations at home. This was Nick’s third deployment as a member of the Ohio National Guard; he had previously served in Kosovo and Iraq, and Penney was ecstatic when Nick came home from one of his deployments. She was outraged when she found out that he came home from one deployment to find that his peacetime job was no longer available to him. She was always laughing when she came home from a photo session with the family, with stories about how happy the family was, and how devoted Nick was to his girls. She expressed her fear when he was deployed. I heard about telephone conversations Penney would have with Jennifer, and Facebook updates that were posted. At least once a week, their names would pop up in conversations.
Jennifer had said that Nick’s posting to Afghanistan was to a relatively safe area. But in the military, there are no guarantees. The reports say that Nick was in a park in Maimanah, the capital of the Faryab province on April 4, 2012, when a suicide bomber rode up on a motorcycle and detonated a bomb he had strapped to his vest. Three US soldiers were killed: Sergeant First Class Shawn Hannon, Sergeant First Class Jeffrey J. Rieck, and Captain Nicholas Rozanski. All were from the Columbus, Ohio area, and all were serving with the 37th Infantry Brigade of the Ohio National Guard. At least 10 others were also killed, including civilians and members of the Afghan police. The Taliban has claimed responsibility, and like many of these senseless attacks, the actual targets of the attack are unclear.
Last night Penney and I talked about war and soldiers, why young men have to die in a country 7,000 miles away, and why it had to be Nick. We know that soldiers fight because their country asks them to. They fight to preserve the liberties we enjoy. They fight so their children won’t have to. They fight to stop aggression. They fight to preserve peace. They volunteer to do a job that the majority won’t. But when we put the philosophy aside, we know that we cannot rationalize why Nick had to die.
Intellectually we understand that there are sacrifices made by those that serve in the Military, and their families, yet it only becomes “real” when it becomes personal. Nick was a good man. He loved being a soldier. He was a good husband and father. He will never experience the joy of seeing his daughters grow up. And Emma will have only vague recollections of her father, Anna will only have photos and the stories Jenny tells her. Jenny will have to cope with her grief while bringing up these two young girls. The sacrifices that military families make suddenly becomes very real to us, as civilians.
The story of these three men was the lead-in to every Columbus news broadcast last night, and the front page of the newspaper this morning. A week from now this will no longer be considered news and will have faded from our collective memory. It becomes convenient to forget.
Yet the families of these men will be left to cope as best they can, with the support from their friends and family. We pray that they will be able to find the strength to move on with their lives.
Nick was one of the almost 3,000 young men and women in the coalition forces who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The memory of all of those that serve their country, in every conflict, must be kept alive. If we cannot do this, their sacrifices, and the liberties that we enjoy, have no meaning.
Sergeant First Class Shawn Hannon
Sergeant First Class Jeffrey J. Rieck
Captain Nicholas Rozanski
May you rest in peace.
We thank you for your service, and for your sacrifice.
We will always remember you.