In the first issue of each year, Gambit Weekly honors New Orleanians who are making substantial contributions to our community. Past New Orleanians of the Year have been artists, scientists, activists, benefactors, businesspeople and more. Whatever their professions, they share one trait: generosity. They give of their time, talents and financial resources. We are all the richer for it.
Most years, we have chosen one person as New Orleanian of the Year. On rare occasions, we have selected two people. This year, we are choosing hundreds. These New Orleanians of the Year for 2004 -- our citizen soldiers -- give of their lives.
Our country's war in Iraq is controversial. Opinions vary about our policies among civilians as well as in the military. Yet we all must agree on this fundamental point: Those serving our country deserve our respect, honor and gratitude.
On the following pages, you'll meet five individuals who have served or are serving overseas. On our Web site, www.bestofneworleans.com, are profiles of more citizen soldiers: Jennifer Loudermilk of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, Carlos H. Sanchez Jr. of the Louisiana National Guard, and Shayne Carter and René Poché of the U.S. Air Force Reserve. You'll also meet Gary Hawkins, a civilian who helped lead the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' reconstruction effort in Iraq. As Gambit Weekly was preparing this issue, we learned of the death of 2nd Lt. Christopher Barnett of Denham Springs, who became the first member of the Louisiana National Guard to be killed in the line of duty in Iraq. His death is a reminder of the dangers faced by all our citizen soldiers. We dedicate this issue to Barnett and to all who serve.