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Finding a new connection with fighting in Iraq

Somehow, the conflict in Iraq has fallen from the national spotlight. On Saturday, the TV news was focused on showing the arrest of a murder suspect who had sat atop a crane in Atlanta for 56 hours.

The third or fourth story was about Iraq. On Friday, the U.S. military confirmed that a soldier died from wounds he’d received earlier.

The total death toll for operations in Iraq on Friday sat at 1,655.

It can be difficult to keep focused on Iraq unless you have direct involvement in it. Up until this point, our involvement in Iraq has interested me only to the level that I want the fighting to be over, Iraq to be self-sufficient and our soldiers to come home.

Each of the casualties is awful, but largely do not affect my family or me.

We are, like many Americans, relatively detached from the war in Iraq. We see it only through the words of a newspaper story or the video on a TV broadcast.

PFC Matthew Christopher Cooper, with the Mississippi National Guard, is about to connect me to the fight in a new, terrifying way.

As a nephew, he’ll always be "cheese ball," the closest thing to a little brother that yours truly ever had.

As a soldier, he’s intimidating and one of the newest members of the world’s most effective fighting machine – the U.S. military.

At boot camp, PFC Cooper handled "the SAW," a rather intense-looking weapon whose name comes from an acronym, SAW meaning, "Squad Automatic Weapon."

June 1st, PFC Cooper will go to extra training prior to deployment to Iraq.

The military probably has some kind of acronym for the training since they use acronyms for everything.

The GI name for the training is probably not "How to Survive in Iraq," but that’s what the gist of the training is.

PFC Cooper’s family is about to join thousands and thousands of other families who watch the TV hoping not to hear anything.

Those are the families who pray that each time the telephone rings it’s "just" a telemarketer.

Statistically, each family knows that probability is on its side. Of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers who have served in Iraq, less than 2,000 have been killed.

Even a one in a million chance isn’t long enough odds, however, when your son, daughter, father, mother, nephew or "cheese ball" is in harm’s way.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached by calling (740) 532-1445 ext. 12 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@irontontribune.com.