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Conflated Tragedies: Bluffton U., Duke U., and Iraq, Too

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It's tragic how little attention media gives to our casualties of war. They continue to be ONLY NUMBERS. Over recent months, incidents involving American college students received ongoing media scrutiny, incongruent with that afforded the young people who have perished in "our" war.

On March 1, 2007, six college baseball players from Bluffton University, along with their driver and his wife, were killed in a tragic bus accident in Atlanta, Georgia. A seventh player died a week later. The story played prominently in the media for several days. Family members were interviewed. Players who survived the crash were questioned on-camera. They wept for their teammates and the families who lost their sons.

Injured Bluffton team member, Kyle King, tearfully described the accident to CNN:

"I was actually sleeping on the bus. And I woke up to the bus driver's wife screaming. And it was all slow motion from there. I was being tossed around in the seats. And I felt my head hit off everything. And that's my black eye and I actually did get up and walk off the bus, too. And I walked out of the bus through the windshield. And I turned and all the traffic stopped and I'm down on the bottom. But we actually fell 30 feet from the top down to the bottom, and I was able to walk off."

The roadway where the accident happened was examined again and again to determine whether structural design flaws factored into the incident. If design was a factor, changes to the roadway would be made. No similar tragedy would happen again.

CNN's Special Investigations Unit made a documentary of the accident and titled it Fatal Journey. Athletes and their families were profiled to underscore the gravity of the accident and tragedy of the deaths. Young faces with names, talents and goals were seared into our memories. Such unnecessary loss.

These were innocent boys. They'd volunteered for this trip, never expecting to die.

On Thursday, April 12th, three Duke University LaCrosse players wrongly accused of rape, were pronounced innocent of all charges. The exoneration of Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligman warranted a lengthy televised press conference. Each young man made a statement describing his ordeal. They emotionally addressed the injustice and pain they'd endured.

Reade Seligman shared the following:

"Today marks the end of a year long nightmare that has been a destructive force in so many peoples lives. The dark cloud of injustice that hung above our heads has finally cleared and we can now all look forward to continuing the life that has been taken from us... This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed."

Reade's teammate Collin Finnerty stated:

"At points it was very tough to see the light and even imagine a day without this weight on my shoulders."

It had obviously been a tough year for these three young men. True, the team members voluntarily invited an exotic dancer to perform, but they hadn't instigated the drama that would ensue.

I watched these two events unfold. The Bluffton tragedy. Young lives lost from a roadway hazard unforeseen. The Duke tragedy. Young lives shredded by lies, spurred on by reckless officials. Remarkably similar to the plight of our military. Only the Bluffton and Duke incidents are anomalies. Our young military suffers these tragedies EVERYDAY.

Sad how our military losses are less sympathetic to our media and to our nation. The deaths of six soldiers from a roadside bomb don't receive endless press. Government and media would argue this is because of difficult access and the dangers of covering the war. That is in part true. But so is the undeniable expectation of military sacrifice. Donning a military uniform makes one dispensable. Donning a baseball uniform does not.

The evening of the Bluffton crash, I watched bruised and battered sophomore A.J. Ramthun emotionally tell his story to the press. He was distraught from his ordeal. The moment I saw him I imagined him in Afghanistan or Iraq. I imagined him at nineteen years old in the war. I imagined he'd just survived an IED attack and his buddies had been killed. I imagined his fear at knowing the same fate could befall him again tomorrow. I imagined him not able to cry. No family. No safety. A never-ending battle to survive.

A.J. said this to CNN:

"This is something that's not going to leave the guys who are on that bus this morning. This is going to be with us forever."

Most likely it will, A.J. You've suffered a horrible loss. But thankfully you're safe at home. And your surviving teammates are safe at home with you. And the teammates you lost ARE MORE THAN JUST NUMBERS. And the whole nation knows well of your loss.

Bring our troops home now!