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Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni

Posted February 17, 2009 | 07:38 PM (EST)

Grieving Military Families Get Personal Touch from President


First published at WashingtonTimes.com

As the news broke today about President Obama deciding to send 12,000 more troops to Afghanistan, I had a story on today's front page looking at the new president's somber duty of penning letters to families of those killed in the two wars.

Obama first mentioned the letters in his interview with NBC during the SuperBowl, and the White House provided me with some details about how he approaches the solemn task.

I talked to several families who lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent weeks, and several said the personal note from the president meant the world to them.

Here's the piece:

In his first few weeks in office, sometime between celebratory bill signings and phone calls from foreign leaders, President Obama sat in the Oval Office for the most somber task of his presidency - penning letters to families of troops killed in combat.

"This was real, it was personal, it was so important to us," said Thya Merz, whose son Marine Lance Cpl. Julian Brennan was killed Jan. 24 in Afghanistan.

The letter was signed "Barack," Ms. Merz told The Washington Times.

"Not 'president,' just his first name, and it just felt like, OK, my son has been acknowledged," she said.

Mr. Obama personalizes each letter, asking staffers to gather details about the service member, such as their hometown and where they were stationed, a White House aide said. The letters are sent to parents and spouses, and sometimes children of the fallen troops.

The president writes the notes by hand, then the letters are typed before he adds his signature.

Mr. Obama wrote the first few letters for troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan while George W. Bush was president, and has written at least a dozen more since taking office.

The president told NBC News that the duty falls to him, though he did not initiate the wars and opposed the invasion of Iraq. In those moments of signing the letters, he said, "you realize every decision you make counts."

Read the full story here.

 Christina Bellantoni, White House correspondent,
The Washington Times

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