LIANE HANSEN, host:
As the White House considers the country's future role in Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers continue to fight and die there. Last week, just a few days before the eighth anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom, eight soldiers were killed when their outpost was attacked. They ranged from 21 to 30 years old. And they were all from a single unit stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado.
NPR's Jeff Brady returned to that military base to find out how war is changing the community.
JEFF BRADY: Outside the main entrance to Fort Carson, there's no flowers, no candles, no memorial, just one guy holding a neon green sign that reads: thank you.
Mr. FRED HADDOCK: Well, my name is Fred Haddock. I live in Pueblo, Colorado.
BRADY: Haddock says he's been standing out here a couple of days each year since the September 11th attacks.
Mr. HADDOCK: You know, maybe sometime, somewhere, some guy will, some hell-hole — and all hell's breaking loose — will remember that there's one son-of-a-bitch out here that still appreciates why he's there, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BRADY: Heather Gravens stopped by to chat with Haddock. Her husband will be deployed to Afghanistan in about a month. She says when it comes to combat deaths, military families don't have the luxury of getting emotional over each individual passing anymore.
Ms. HEATHER GRAVENS: Yes, we feel, you know, sorry for the people who lost their lives and especially their family, you know, for the grieving that they have to do. But in the same breath, you know, it's not over, you know, so we have to keep going.
BRADY: A few days earlier at a press conference, Major Daniel Chandler said the affected unit over in Afghanistan is keeping its spirits up. He said surviving soldiers know their dead colleagues helped to win that particular battle.
Major DANIEL CHANDLER (Commander, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Rear Detachment): There were a lot of heroes on that day and they're really rallying around themselves. And morale in the 4th Brigade Combat Team is high and it's getting stronger.
BRADY: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have claimed 279 Fort Carson soldiers. Right now about 3,500 military personnel from the here are deployed in Afghanistan. As the number of dead and injured rise, the atmosphere in Colorado Springs has changed. Gone are many of the Support the Troops banners, there are fewer flags and not as many yellow ribbons. In their place, a form of stoicism has set in. Evidence can be found as close as a nearby supermarket parking lot.
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BRADY: College student Tasha Bryant says she's a military brat. Her dad was in the Army. When news of the eight deaths came, she chose to focus on the sacrifice the soldiers made.
Ms. TASHA BRYANT: I'm more thankful than anything, than to sit and want to grieve, you know. Oh gosh, there's another death, oh gosh, there's another death. I want to focus more on the fact that I'm thankful that somebody at least went over there and did it.
BRADY: And locals want to know that soldiers are there for a good reason, according to Father Bill Carmody. At St. Dominic's Catholic Church, he says 85 percent of the parishioners are active or retired military. But Carmody says he's not heard much talk about the soldiers who died. Instead, he says, attention is on one big issue.
Father BILL CARMODY (Pastor, St. Dominic Catholic Church): Most people around here want to make sure they didn't die in vain. And what I mean by that is, are we going to win this war on terrorism or not?
BRADY: That's why residents in this military town are watching closely to see what President Obama decides about the country's future role in Afghanistan.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.
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