3,000…. When it comes to Saddam Hussein’s execution, the word of the day, Joshua Holland notes, is “milestone.” As in Bush’s statement marking Saddam’s death: “Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq’s course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself.” By Holland’s count, it was the sixteenth “turning point” or “milestone” (along with one chance to “turn the tide” and a “watershed event”) in the last three and a half years.

But so long as “milestones” are open for discussion, a far more tragic one was reached today.

Jordan W. Hess was the unlikeliest of soldiers. He could bench-press 300 pounds and then go home and write poetry. He learned the art of glass blowing because it seemed interesting and built a computer with only a magazine as his guide. Most recently, he fell in love with a woman from Brazil and took up digital photography, letting both sweep his heart away.

Specialist Hess, the seventh of eight children, was never keen on premonitions, but on Christmas of 2005, as his tight-knit family gathered on a beach for the weekend, he told each sibling and parent privately that he did not expect to come home from Iraq.

On Nov. 11, Specialist Hess, 26, freshly arrived in Iraq, was conducting a mission as the driver of an Abrams tank when an improvised explosive device, or I.E.D., blew up with brain-rattling force. The blast was so potent it penetrated the 67-ton tank, flinging him against the top and critically injuring his spine. His four crewmates survived. For three weeks, he hung on at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, long enough to utter a few words to his loved ones and absorb all their kindness.

On Dec. 4, Specialist Hess slipped onto the ever-expanding list of American military fatalities in Iraq, one that has increased by an average of more than three a day since Oct. 1, the highest three-month toll in two years. On Sunday, with the announcement of the death in Baghdad of Specialist Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Tex., the list reached the grave milestone of at least 3,000 deaths since the March 2003 invasion.

In June, after U.S. fatalities in Iraq reached 2,500, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked if the president had “any response or reaction.” Snow responded, “It’s a number, and every time there’s one of these 500 benchmarks, people want something.”

In this case, I think Snow was right; people do “want something.” We want a president who understands reality. We want an administration with an effective policy. We want U.S. troops to get out of the middle of a civil war.

In short, we want to avoid number 3,001.

Here’s to a far less tragic 2007.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.