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The Face of Number 4,000 in Iraq

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When George W. Bush flew with great fanfare onto the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 and announced from the flight deck that the war in Iraq was all but over, I'm sure there were sighs of relief among America's military families. I'm sure they believed that what he had said in feverishly promoting the Iraq invasion was true -- that this would be a quick victory, with little loss of military life and that his team knew what they were doing in the occupation that would follow.

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," declared Bush, in a nationally televised address, backed by a giant banner proclaiming "mission accomplished."

With that statement, the president who lied the country and the U.S. Congress into the Iraq quagmire was again deceiving the American people, but this time the deception was that the toughest times in Iraq had past.

Of course, everyone now knows the truth.

We know that 96 percent of the Americans killed in Iraq have died since Bush boasted that our mission was accomplished and we know with sickening assurance that we have hit the hideous milestone of 4,000 of our own dead in the Bush administration's war of choice.

We arrived at that number on Sunday and we've seen it replayed in all its sterility throughout the media this entire week.

And to be sure the numbers of dead and wounded while astounding in generalities have sadly begun over the last five years to lose their specificity, to render us unable to grasp the individual stories of lives lost for no reason and so many families left with interminable grief.

But I want to tell you about number 4,000, because he has a name and he had a wonderful life to come.

His name is Christopher M. Hake. He was a U.S. Army Staff Sargent. More importantly, he was a husband to wife Kelli and a father to 1-year-old son, Gage.

He was from Enid, Oklahoma -- and he was 26 years old.

We can't say for sure that Hake was number 4,000 of our Iraq dead because Pvt. George Delgado, 21, of Palmdale, Calif., Pfc. Andrew J. Habsieger, 22, of Festus, Mo. and Spc. Jose A. Rubio Hernandez, 24, of Mission, Texas all died in a horrible blast earlier this week when, according to the Defense Department, "their vehicle encountered an improvised explosive" in Baghdad.

But as a Veteran myself, I can tell you that these men were brothers until the end and that, because more early news and details are available on Chris Hake than his buddies, we can tell his story and hope all Americans understand the identical preciousness of every life we have needlessly lost in Iraq.

Hake, a graduate of the Oklahoma Bible Academy (OBA), who lived with his wife and infant son near Fort Stewart, GA, was described by grieving family members as a man devoted to his belief that he was helping the Iraqi people and, more than anything, the men with whom he served.

"He was 100 percent sure we should be there, and he talked of the love of the Iraqi people for him and his guys," said his father, Peter Hake, who also said his son loved the men in his command. "He said they would die for each other, and they did,"

And he had made a quick decision to sign up. The boy described by his father as an "energetic, rambunctious kid" simply went to the military recruiter's office after he graduated from high school and returned home having enlisted in the Army.

"He got out of high school and didn't know what to do. I mentioned the service, and I was thinking the Air Force," Pete Hake said. "He went down to see his recruiter that day and came home and told me he had joined the Army."

The 26-year-old, who was on his second combat deployment to Iraq, was remembered by his former high school principal as respectful and quiet.

"We saw him go on after graduation in 2000 to show his true heart as a kid who is very devoted. He still had strong ties here at OBA," said Principal Mark Shuck of the young man who graduated in 2000. "He was an all-American kid. He was 'yes sir,' 'no sir' and very respectful. I would use him as an example to other kids as they grow up. He always fit that mode very well."

"He was quietly compassionate. He generally cared for people."

Chris Hake had been married for just under three years and his father said going on the second tour of duty in Iraq was an enormously difficult choice -- made all the more painful by having to leave his baby son.

"It literally tore his heart out to walk out on that boy," said Peter Hake. "It made him wish he could be done with the war."

As do the vast majority of Americans.

We should not forget either that tens of thousand of Iraqi civilians have been killed since the U.S. invaded in March 2003. And as the 2008 elections draw near and we contemplate the enormous importance of selecting a new president and a larger Democratic majority in Congress, we must remember every day our own loss of 4,000 vital, important human beings who had a lot of living left to be done.

These were our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who because of the policies of the Bush administration will never hug their spouses or parents again and will never see their kids grow up.

And near or on number 4,000, we should remember the face of Christopher M. Hake, who died at only 26 years old.

The soldier's MySpace page is still up and still holds pictures of him, his young wife and his beautiful baby boy. And his last post, from January 9, 2008, is a haunting reminder of an American full of hope, trying to do the right thing but who ultimately only wanted to return home to his family.

"I will be going on mid-tour leave in July. Kelli, Gage and I are going to spend that time in GA by ourselves," wrote Hake in explaining to his family back home in Oklahoma. "This will be the first time in 8 years I haven't gone to OK for vacation. But our priorities have changed drastically since we had our son."

"But when I do come home for good in '09, we will see everyone. Continue to keep our little family in your prayers. We will keep all of you in ours."

You can read more from Bob at The Agonist.