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Editorial: Deaths emphasize our debt to military, police

In New Mexico we celebrate – and often take for granted – our U.S. military forces. We turn out en masse for parades and fireworks displays. We jealously guard the budgets of our national labs, Air Force bases and Army missile range. We glance up at the flyovers. And we don’t think twice when we see a vehicle with a Purple Heart license plate parked next to one with a Disabled Veteran plate down the row from one with a National Guard plate.

But there’s an unspoken risk and sacrifice that comes with having such a large and important military presence here – unspoken until a tragedy like the crash Tuesday of a single-engine military aircraft near Clovis. The training flight crash took the lives of pilot Capt. Andrew Becker, 33, of Novi, Mich.; co-pilot First Lt. Frederick Dellecker, 26, of Daytona Beach, Fla.; and combat systems officer Capt. Kenneth Dalga, 29, of Goldsboro, N.C. All were attached to the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis.

Col. Ben Maitre, the base commander, said, “Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of those involved in this tragic accident.”

That’s especially true in Clovis, where Chamber of Commerce President David Robinson said, “Everybody here in Clovis knows somebody at the base.”

And it’s especially true in New Mexico, where everybody knows somebody with a tie to the military – whether it’s at Cannon, Holloman or Kirtland Air Force bases, White Sands Missile Range, Los Alamos or Sandia or the Air Force Research labs, the VA hospital, or veterans who made the choice and sacrifice to serve our nation and protect democracy.

New Mexico has more Medals of Honor awarded per capita than any other state, the highest per-capita casualty rates in WWII and a heavy toll in the Bataan Death March, 649 servicemen and women lost in conflicts from Korea to Afghanistan, and an estimated 172,500 veterans who call the Land of Enchantment home. When there is a loss of a military life, the whole state grieves because it is not only close to home; it is home.

The same goes for our men and women in law enforcement uniforms. Last week Navajo Nation officer Houston James Largo, 27, was shot on a county road after stopping a vehicle north of the community of Prewitt. He had been recognized along with two colleagues just a year earlier after a domestic dispute prompted a police pursuit and ended with one Navajo officer dead and two others wounded. Largo had worked with another officer to save the life of one of their own during the gunfight.

Largo’s death resonates in communities across New Mexico that have lost law enforcement officers. Rio Rancho police officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner, Hatch officer Jose Chavez, Albuquerque officer Daniel Webster, Alamogordo officer Clint Corvinus, Farmington officer Victoria Chavez and Sandoval County Sgt. Joseph Harris are unfortunately just the most recent.

These latest losses – Capt. Andrew Becker, First Lt. Frederick Dellecker, Capt. Kenneth Dalga and officer Houston James Largo – make the unspoken risk and sacrifice endemic in serving in the military and law enforcement all too raw and all too real. New Mexico and the nation owe them, their colleagues and their families a debt of gratitude for their service.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.