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  1. Military

Howard Altman: A huge thanks to an amazing community

For the past decade, I have been lucky enough to cover the military and veteran community of Glorious Tampastan.

The strategies cooked up at U.S. Central Command. The cool tools sought out by U.S. Special Operations Command to train, equip and care for the world's finest Special Operations Forces. The amazing work done by the crews of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and the 927th Air Refueling Wing, flying and maintaining Eisenhower-era tanker jets. The healing that takes place at two of the busiest Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in the nation. And the stories of selfless service and sacrifice by those in uniform and those who are left waiting and wondering.

And of course the wounded, ill and injured, and the Gold Star families, who have deeply inspired me.

I have covered triumph and tragedy, shined light on problems and highlighted the profound. But always with these goals in mind: Be accurate in fact and in context.

Also, to remind readers that, regardless of what you think about the military, it acts in your name and on your dime. As the 99 percent goes about its business while the 1 percent (really less) serves, I did my best to ensure that the pages of the Tampa Bay Times (and the Tampa Tribune before that) reflected that reality whenever possible. There are some 200,000 of your fellow citizens deployed around the world and the public should never forget that.

•••

Those who cover the military and veterans know that it is a challenge — and a reward — unlike anything else.

It is a community wary of the media, working in a field where so much is cloaked in the (often and increasingly overused) cover of national security. Trust is hard to establish, easily lost and nearly impossible to recover.

But the rewards are well worth any challenge.

This job has taken me around the world, allowed me to travel in all manner of convenience, from nuclear sub to B-17, and engage in conversations with those who make life-or-death decisions affecting millions. I have met men and women who performed extraordinary deeds, achieved the unachieveable, and had loved ones make the ultimate sacrifice. Through it all, I have aimed to explain the nexus between national security and human endeavor and what that all means to those I am privileged to have read my work.

For those who ply this trade, there are few better places to do it than here.

•••

I first came to Tampa in 2005 to run the courts and cops team at the late, great Tampa Tribune. My job was to edit a terrific group of reporters who at the time were covering a couple of horrific child murders, a terrorism trial, the ongoing saga of Terri Schiavo and the other typical Florida Man/Woman mishegoss that makes this such a delightful place to practice journalism.

But things change, and five years later, after another in a ceaseless round of layoffs claimed a good deal of my Tribune team, I was made a reporter again. So I quickly jumped on the opportunity and asked to take over the vacant military reporting beat.

It turned out to be a pretty good move.

And now it is time for another.

In military parlance, I am about to PCS, my new duty station being Military Times, where I will serve as managing editor, working with some of the best journalists who do this thing on a national level. It is, as the Godfather would say, an offer I truly could not refuse.

I am often asked about my favorite story, and the answer is there are too many. But perhaps I am proudest that at the end of each column we commemorate those who have fallen.

The reaction to news of my departure has been overwhelming and humbling. I owe many debts of gratitude to too many to name here as I got up to speed on the toughest beat I've ever covered. And I am incredibly grateful for the time and trust bestowed upon me as I worked to uncover wrongdoing, identify the incredible and tell stories of intrepidity and sacrifice by the few for the many.

I will miss this place, and this amazing community, more than you can know.

So long for now and thanks for reading.

•••

Since my last column, the Department of Defense announced the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel..

Sgt. 1st Class Will D. Lindsay, 33, of Cortez, Colorado, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colorado and Spc. Joseph P. Collette, 29, of Lancaster, Ohio, assigned to the 242nd Ordnance Battalion, 71st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group, Fort Carson, Colorado died March 22, 2019, in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, as a result of wounds sustained while engaged in combat operations. The incident is under investigation.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 63 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel; 58 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112 . Follow @haltman .

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