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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Members of New Hampshire's Army National Guard return home to their families Thursday, December 9, 2010, at the Manchester State Armory.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Chris MacArthur of Concord is welcomed home by his wife and daughters as members of the National Guard return home to their families December 9 at the Manchester State Armory.
Friday, December 31, 2010

2. Fallen soldiers

The American war in Afghanistan has fallen heavily on New Hampshire hearts this year, as eight state residents were killed in action in 2010.

Numerous others came home safely from tours of duty, but the fallen eight have shaken their communities.

The most recent death was Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Geary, 20, of Derry, who was killed on Dec. 8. He graduated from Pinkerton Academy in Derry in 2009 and was part of combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson told The Telegraph early in December that Geary’s death was tragic and affected many people at the school.

Geary was buried at the state Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen on Dec. 17.

The seven other men killed this year were Army Spc. Marc P. Decoteau, 19, of Waterville Valley; Marine Pfc. Eric D. Currier, 21, of Londonderry; Marine Cpl. Jonathan D. Porto, 26, of Plaistow; Army Staff Sgt. Kyle R. Warren, 28, of Manchester; Army Master Sgt. Jared N. Van Aalst, 34, of Laconia; Army Sgt. Andrew C. Nicol, 23, of Kensington; and Marine Cpl. Philip Gerald Eichner Charte, 22, of Goffstown.

The war passed the Vietnam War in June as the nation’s longest combat operation and is in its 110th month, as of Dec. 7. More than 1,000 members of the American military have died since conflict began in 2001.

But 2010 wasn’t without its own uplifting military stories and events in New Hampshire.

Marine Cpl. Michael Ouellette, of Manchester, died fighting in Afghanistan in March 2009, but received the Navy Cross posthumously on Nov. 10, 2010, for his leadership and courage.

Ouellette and his regiment were ambushed, but he calmly led his Marines out of the area despite being wounded by an improvised explosive device. Ouellette refused to be evacuated before all of his Marines had been rescued. He died from his injuries during the helicopter transport.

The Navy Cross is the highest honor that can be awarded by the Navy and the second-highest award given for valor, behind the Medal of Honor. His mother accepted the award on his behalf.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Ouellette’s actions took “unrelenting courage” and showed “extraordinary heroism.”

Heroic efforts from Ouellette and other men and women in military service aren’t taken for granted, especially by the people who are able to come home safely.

More than 60 members of the National Guard returned on Aug. 17 and another similar-size group came back on Dec. 9. Large crowds of family and friends showed up to welcome the two groups, both of which featured many Greater Nashua residents.

Some returnees won’t be going back, either, including Merrimack resident Dan Newman, who completed a 17-year career when he flew home to Manchester on Dec. 9.

“You never get used to it, the thrill of seeing your family and your friends. But I’ll be glad I won’t have to do it again,” he told The Telegraph in December, while clutching his 2-year-old son, Riley, tightly in his arms. “It’s good to be home.”

More good news could be on the way next year, as President Obama said in December 2009 that American troop withdrawals from Afghanistan would begin in June 2011.