Washington, D.C. — This week the Pentagon released official figures on how dramatically the security situation has improved in Iraq. Terrorist attacks, secular violence, road-side bombings, Iraqi civilian deaths and U.S. casualties are all down. The announcement received scant notice from the so-called mainstream media. About the only news from the global war on radical Islamic terror to receive less attention this week was the erroneously headlined story on the Associated Press wire: “Army Captain from Fort Lewis, WA, Drowns in the Philippines.”
The item immediately captured my attention for two reasons. First, the struggle against Islamic terror in the Philippines is the topic of this week’s episode of War Stories on FOX News Channel. Second, but of greater import, while shooting this documentary, we lived in the field with U.S. and Filipino Special Operations troops working to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf and Jemiah Islamiyah — terror groups closely affiliated with Al Qaeda. As I read the article, I selfishly hoped that the soldier who had perished so far from home was not one of those we had come to know so well.
It turns out that 27-year-old Staff Sgt. Joseph F. Curreri of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, was not one of the brave Americans we lived alongside in the fetid jungle. According to a U.S. Army news release, he was on his first deployment and drowned in a training accident, not far from where we were embedded with members of Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines. The terse announcement — typical of those when Special Operations personnel are killed in the line of duty — noted that SSG Curreri joined the Army in 2004 and that he “grew up in suburban Baltimore and swam and played water polo in high school before attending University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was a four-year letterman on the USC swim team and captain of the team in his senior year.”
Now in case you — or any of the Democrat candidates who discussed UFOs in this week’s nationally televised debate, missed it — here are the salient parts of this story:
Staff Sgt. Joseph F. Curreri is a now deceased American hero. He was smart — he had to be to get into USC. He was a gifted athlete — the captain of his college swim team. With our nation already at war, he volunteered to serve in the Special Forces. And when he died, he was serving our country in the southern Philippines helping their fight against radical Islam.
Unfortunately, given the unwillingness of the mainstream media to print or broadcast anything positive about the men and women in our Armed Forces, most of us never hear or read about bright, brave young Americans like SSG Curreri. Nor will those who count on the major networks and newspapers for information be able to grasp how we are going to win a global war against the Islamic radicals who are dying to kill us.
That’s why FOX News Channel sent our War Stories team to the southern Philippines – so that we could chronicle a dramatic — but little known — success story. Even critics of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan agree that the campaign in the southern Philippine archipelago could well become the model for how to win the war against Islamic terror.
Everyone we talked to — from Washington to Manila — recognizes that there are enormous differences between what we have documented for War Stories in ten trips to Southwest Asia and what we saw happening in the Sulu Archipelago. Most visibly, there are nearly 170,000 American troops in Iraq and nearly 25,000 in Afghanistan. Though the actual number is classified, there are fewer than 1,000 U.S. Special Forces soldiers, Navy SEALs, Marines and airmen in Col. Dave Maxwell’s Joint Special Operations Task Force — Philippines.
And equally important, President Gloria Arroyo, serves as the head of state for the kind of established, functioning democracy that people in Iraq and Afghanistan can only hope for. This week, millions of Filipinos turned out to vote in municipal elections despite threats by Islamic militants to disrupt the balloting. When I asked President Arroyo about political controversy over the U.S. military mission, she emphasized the long-standing relationship between the American and Filipino people: “We have been together through the Second World War. We've been together through the war in Korea, through the war in Vietnam and now we're together in the war against terrorism.”
That’s the same kind of response we got from every Philippine officer and enlisted soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with whom we talked. And all of that is thanks to bright, brave Americans like Staff Sergeant Joseph F. Curreri of the U.S. Special Forces. I’m sorry that he couldn’t be here to see the episode starring his comrades in arms who showed us the future of the war on terror.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of “War Stories” on the FOX News Channel and the founder of Freedom Alliance, a foundation that provides support for the troops and scholarships to the dependents of servicemen killed in the line of duty.
Lt. Col. Oliver L. North (ret.) serves as host of the Fox News Channel documentary series "War Stories with Oliver North." From 1983 to 1986, he served as the U.S. government's counterterrorism coordinator on the National Security Council staff. "Counterfeit Lies," is his novel about how Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. Click here for more information on Oliver North.