by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse

This year, our Senior Senator Deb Fischer is undertaking an important project to honor Nebraska’s fallen heroes. Senator Fischer will honor the 77 Nebraskans who have died in the war against militant Islam in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

These Nebraskans paid the highest price for the freedoms that all of us enjoy each and every day. They fought so that families in Fremont can worship freely; they bled so that the Rotary club in Kearney can meet on Wednesday mornings; they gave their lives to ensure that folks from Scottsbluff to Lincoln can voice their opinions in newspapers, on Facebook, and in person.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the attacks that brought global jihadism to our doorstep. Although the fight against militant Islam will continue for decades, it is important to pause and remember those who have died to defend our founding principles.

In January, I had the great privilege of presiding over the Senate as Senator Fischer began this project by honoring Joshua A. Ford. A specialist from Pender, who was killed in Iraq in 2006, he was remembered lovingly by his family as “ornery but extremely caring.” Sgt. Ford joined the Nebraska Army National Guard after his junior year of high school. While other kids spent their summers mowing lawns and detasseling corn, Sgt. Ford went to what he called “Fat Man’s Camp,” getting in shape for the military.

Basic training helped him shed some extra pounds, but it also made him a man. Sgt. 1st Class Brad Wieland said he watched Sgt. Ford grow up from a “kid to a soldier almost overnight." In 2005, Sgt. Ford was deployed to Iraq. By all counts, the heavy-vehicle driver was enthusiastic and friendly. A man of courage and resolve, he was reliable and often volunteered for extra missions.

Active duty made him intentional and focused. During a short leave, he proposed to his girlfriend, Michelle, and made an audio will for his family and friends. His dad, Lonnie, said he wanted people to celebrate his life. On July 31, 2006, six months before he was supposed to return home, Sgt. Ford was killed on a routine patrol near Al Numaniyah, when an explosive device ripped through the truck he was driving. He was only 20 years old.

Sgt. Ford's life is just one of many stories of courage. As Nebraskans have faithfully answered their country’s call, we must honor and celebrate the lives and service of all our fallen heroes. In the face of great danger and evil, these patriots stepped out in bravery and paid the ultimate cost. We cannot thank them enough. We cherish the freedoms they defended.

Senator Fischer has done all of us a great service by commemorating these stories. Her initiative reminds us of the important principles that established our great nation and the men and women who have died protecting those freedoms. I am greatly moved by these stories and grateful for Senator Fischer's leadership.

I hope families all across Nebraska will join me in following this series. We will not forget our fallen heroes.