Where Are the Heroes of Iraq?

Article excerpt

EVER HEARD OF SGT. BENNY ALICEA? Don't feel bad; most Americans couldn't tell you who he was or what he did.

On November 13, 2004, Sergeant Alicea was servingas a rifleman in Company A of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Task Force in Fallujah, one of the terrorist strongholds in Iraq. His unit was ambushed and, despite being hit by shrapnel from two grenades, Alicea moved through a courtyard and out into the street. When his leg gave out from his wounds, he shielded three wounded soldiers from intense enemy fire.

"I just kept firing my weapon, just shooting, waiting to get hit," Alicea told Stars and Stripes. "I'd pretty much figured at any given point, it was all over. I just kept firing my weapon, but I didn't think I was going to make it through it."

When he ran out of ammo, he grabbed magazines from the wounded soldiers and continued firing as enemy rounds pinged all around him and his fallen buddies. Eventually, a Bradley fighting vehicle came to their rescue.

"Sergeant Alicea epitomizes what's great about our Army," said Lt. Col. Jim Rainey, the 2-7 Cavalry commander. "He's a young, disciplined warrior who's willing to give his life in the protection of his comrades."

Unfortunately, Alicea also epitomizes hundreds of U.S. soldiers who have done incredibly heroic things in fighting the war on terror with little fanfare or recognition from the media or the citizens of the countiy they're fighting-and dying-to protect.

For his bravery, Alicea was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for valor. Two other 2-7 Cavalry soldiers from his unit were also awarded Silver Stars: Sgt. Mathew Zedwick of Corvallis, Oregon, and Spc. Jose A. Velez of Lubbock, Texas. Velez's commendation was posthumous-a sniper killed him as he stood over wounded buddies in much the same way that Sergeant Alicea protected his fallen comrades.

These men, by any measure, are all heroes. But you couldn't find their stones in the New York Times or the Washington Post. With the exception of small, local papers, their stories are mostly being told on the Internet and in military press releases. And they're not alone.

Ever heard of Marine Capt. Brian R. Chontosh? While serving in Iraq he ordered his Humvee into an enemy trench, got out, and began mowing down enemy fighters with his M-16 rifle and 9mm pistol. When his ammo ran out he picked up enemy weapons and continued his attack. At one point, he picked up an RPG and fired it into a group of enemy soldiers. When it was all over, Captain Chontosh had cleared more than 200 yards of enemy trench and killed more than two dozen enemy combatants.

"I was just doing my job," said Chontosh, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor. "1 did the same thing every other Marine would have done, it was just a passion and love for my Marines."

For his heroism, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for valor, by Marine Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagce during a ceremony at the Marine base at Twentynine Palms, California. Was it carried live on C-Span or even mentioned on the CBS Evening News? With the exception of the media in his hometown of Rochester, New York, Chontosh's incredible story went largely unreported. To learn about him you had to read the Marine Corps press release or one of a handful of military blogs that are thankfully telling these sobering stories of bravery and heroism.

SERGEANT ALICEA, CAPTAIN CHONTOSH, and others are the heroes of the war on terror. But unlike World War I's Sgt. Alvin York and World War II's Lt. Audie Murphy and Gen. George S. Patton, household names during their time, we know little about the heroes of today. Why?

Part of the answer lies in a clear and blatant media bias. Stars and Stripes, the Gannett-owned military newspaper, has done a good job of telling some of these stories. Would that the same were true for USA Today, the newspaper chain's flagship publication. …