Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Emily Perez is dead...

Emily Perez had a passion for books.  She loved to read.  In 2001, she graduated from a public high school outside of Washington DC in an area known mostly for gangs, drugs, death and despair.  Emily was straight-A student.  She could have attended any university she chose.  She chose West Point.

Getting admitted to West Point is no easy feat.  First, you need to be nominated for consideration -- usually by your senator or congressional representative.  Then you are evaluated in three areas: academic performance, demonstrated leadership potential, and physical aptitude.

Emily was a leader among leaders.  She was the first black woman to serve as corps commander sergeant major at West Point.  She graduated in the top 10% of her class.  In spite of all that promise, this story does not have a happy ending.

You will probably not see this story on FOX (she's not blonde enough), or The Today Show (she's not shallow enough), or BET (she's not freaky enough) ... that doesn't mean her story is not important enough.

Lt. Perez joined the Medical Service Corps because she wanted to help people.  It was something she always focused on.  As a high school student, Perez pushed her church to begin an HIV/AIDS ministry after several family friends became infected with the virus. She was honored in 2001 by the American Red Cross Board of Governors for her work as an AIDS educator.

Because of her desire to help and serve, Lt. Perez gave of herself. Literally. Shortly before shipping out to Iraq with the 204th Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, she flew cross country to be a bone marrow donor for a stranger who was a match.  Donating bone marrow is a painful and difficult procedure.  I am sure those who knew her would not be surprised to learn she volunteered to endure the suffering simply because it meant she could help someone.   By all accounts that's who she was.

As I study Emily's picture, I'm captivated by the strength of her gaze, how firmly she grasps the sword, and smitten by the half smile that breathes confidence.  It's been said the eyes are the windows to the soul.  Through them we see the past, present, and future.  I'll bet there was a time her father in an unguarded moment looked at her and fell in love.  You see the truth is no matter what kind of a guy you are, there comes a point in every father's life when he looks into his daughter's eyes and is simply awed by how beautiful they are.  It's not the sort of experience guys share over a brew.

If you've ever had that moment you probably recognize the one that followed it.  That's the moment when we offer up that silent prayer -- that when she falls in love, he'll be a better man than we are and he will be worthy.  Sadly, some prayers go unanswered.  This angel of light died in Al Kifl, Iraq, on Sept. 12th.

It is easy to grow numb as this increasingly pointless war churns on and they throw more of our children into that meat grinder.  But every now and then a story comes along that gets past my defenses and it leaves me wondering how much longer we will let the Pied Piper of hatred and violence lead our children to a place of no return.

Contemplating this sad tale of a life cut short, words fail me as I confront the reality that only God knows the treasures we bury with our children.

"I am not haunted by the fear that my brother will be sent to war. I believe there are beliefs and causes worth taking risks for, worth fighting and dying for. Rather, I am haunted by the fear that he will be sent to war thoughtlessly, carelessly."

-- Cara Cannon Byington (Jan. 15, 2003)

Rest in Peace, Emily.
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