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thedrifter
03-19-06, 09:45 AM
Families' anguish grows over Iraq
3 YEARS LATER, TROOPS STILL FACE DANGER
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/19/06
BY MICHAEL AMSEL
STAFF WRITER

On March 19, 2003, President Bush stood before a battery of cameras at the White House and told the nation that the United States had invaded Iraq. He said the only way to limit the duration of the military action was to apply decisive force, and he assured people this was not a campaign of half-measures and that America would accept no outcome but victory.

Three years later, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed in combat, no weapons of mass destruction have been discovered, and Bush is marking the third anniversary with a series of speeches warning citizens of "more chaos and carnage in the days and months to come."

Estimates on civilian casualties are not released by the government, but President Bush said he thinks at least 30,000 Iraqis had been killed as of December. Other military experts put the number at 50,000.

The chaos and carnage have claimed the lives of 12 soldiers with ties to the Jersey Shore and created much heartache and pain. Hundreds of area men and women remain engaged in the war, and each day their family and friends worry that they, too, will fall victim to car bombs and mortar attacks and the other dirty deeds of insurgents.

Kathleen Melnykevich of Tinton Falls is one of the lucky ones.

Her son Daniel, 27, recently returned from his second stint in Fallujah, Iraq, and is in good health. She thanks God for her good fortune, but admits the war has created tension in the family.

"I don't want to get into any details, but even within families you have varying opinions," Kathleen said.

Don Melnykevich, Daniel's father, said media reports have overplayed the chaotic side of the war and given little credit to our soldiers' progress.

"When my son returned home a second time (in February), I made it a point to ask him if it's getting better over there," Don Melnykevich said. "He said, "It's getting markedly better.' He told me a number of Iraqi units go out on their own without any Marine Corps help."

William Clemis, whose son, Staff Sgt. Michael Clemis, returned from a one-year stint in November 2005, agreed, saying the press has been "overly negative" in its coverage.

"Michael is very disappointed with what he has read in the papers," said Clemis, of Manchester. "He said the soldiers have done many positive things, like rebuilding schools and repairing utilities. He said there is way too much concentration on the downside."

Daniel Melnykevich's story has a familiar ring. Moved by the events of 9/11, he felt a loyalty to his country and joined the Marines in April 2003. He was nine credits shy of graduating from Loyola College in Maryland at the time.

Kathleen and Don Melnykevich supported their son's decision, but found themselves increasingly stressed out when he went to Iraq for the first time.

"When he was deployed, we lived and died by the television," Kathleen said. "There was a TV on in every room 24/7 because we didn't want to miss any news. You really don't realize the stress level you live with each day until they return home. The first time Daniel was over there, I was up all night the entire summer. It wasn't until he came back in October that I was able to sleep again."

"Every time I heard a television announcer say a Marine had been killed in Fallujah, my first thought was, "Could it be Dan?' " Don said.

Like Melnykevich, Adam Sosnowski served two stints in Iraq as a member of the 6th Motor Transport Battalion. He returned home to Howell in September and is now enrolled at the Ocean County Police Academy.

Karen Sosnowski is deeply proud of her son's dedication and commitment and feels the United States went into Iraq for "all the right reasons."

But she said once the heavy bombing and artillery phase was over, our country was unprepared for the transition phase.

"We thought when we took over it would be easy, but it is clear now we are in over our heads," Karen said. "We didn't expect the insurgency. We were not prepared for everything that was going to happen. We can't just pull out now after everything that has gone down, but I still believe it will work out over time."

Don Melnykevich has similar feelings.

"The bottom line is if we don't fight them there, we are going to have to fight them here," Melnykevich said. "And if we continue with this talk about pulling out the troops, we will be fighting them in both places. I am a firm believer in being there and getting the job done correctly."

William Clemis' view on the war has changed sharply since the outset three years ago.

"In the beginning, I was all for it," Clemis said. "But it seems to me now that not much is coming out of it in the way of finalizing. It is just dragging on too long. . . . The hard, cold truth is there is no end in sight."

Karen Sosnowksi said her heart goes out to the parents of the 2,300 soldiers who lost their lives in the Iraq "fiasco."

"These men and women are so brave and they are doing the best they can," said Sosnowski. "As a parent, it's such a roller coaster. One day you hear the election is in place and things are getting better. Then, the next day five men are killed by insurgents. I just feel blessed that Adam returned safely and I pray that we have some resolution to this war."

Marine Cpl. Daniel Melnykevich, a Red Bank Catholic graduate, doesn't finish his military obligation until April 2007. There is a possibility he could be called back to Iraq a third time — something his parents are dreading.

Don Melnykevich cringed when he was asked about a return.

"I would be lying to you if I said my son wants to go back," he said. "No one wants to go back there. No one."

ON THE WEB: Visit our Web site, www.app.com, and look under Special Reports for links to: Honoring Our Own and In Service of Freedom, a series of stories about local veterans and soldiers who have died in the Iraq War.

Michael Amsel: (732) 557-5733 or mamsel@app.com

Ellie