A year ago, I was watching humans fall from airplanes trying to escape the coming Taliban rule in Afghanistan and it looked like an Expendables movie. My years there were the best and worst of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I fell in love with the people there, all they knew was hardship and out of that came a love of simple things and a fierce resiliency. The challenges I faced there brought out the best of me while I was serving. And when I got out of the military, they brought out the worst in me.
It was never possible for Afghanistan veterans to come home to victory parades like soldiers did after WW2. We were fighting an unwinnable war and now that dark cloud that follows Vietnam veterans has started to follow us. Both conflicts had tragic, chaotic, and confusing endings that make it harder for us to close that chapter on our lives. We gave our all-our blood, sweat, and tears to a cause that was embarrassingly and incoherently abandoned. I don’t know what ending the Afghanistan war should have had, but I know that American veterans deserved a better ending.
We went off like good boys and girls to fight and die for reasons never fully explained to us. We were told that it was to stop the Taliban from providing sanctuary to Al-Qaeda. However, the recent killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri makes it painfully clear Al-Qaeda is still there. On top of that, the current humanitarian crisis will likely kill more people than the war because there are things worse than death. Mass starvation, women forced under the veil, young girls sold like cattle, and a generation denied education.
I see an identity crisis unfolding in my generation of warriors. We’re left scratching our heads and not knowing our place in history. Veteran suicides far exceed what we lost in battle. I’ve wondered what the enemy makes of that, do they count veteran suicides as KIA’s? I’ve been thinking a lot about Afghanistan this year but especially now, looking back at the anniversary of the Abbey Gate suicide bombing at the Kabul Airport.
I’ve been thinking about the 13 servicemembers and 170 Afghans that died there, but I’ve also been reflecting on the American response. To avenge those 13 American servicemembers, the American government conducted an airstrike that killed ten innocent people, including seven children. I mourn the 13 Americans, Marine Cpl Daegan Page was from my home state of Iowa, the same town my grandmother was born in. I pray for his family, and I’m frustrated at my government for killing those innocents in return, I’m furious at the complete lack of accountability. It was clear to us as ground soldiers that we were responsible for bullets we fired. But apparently that standard doesn’t go all the way to the top because all the bureaucrats and military leadership kept their jobs.
A year after that disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, veterans are left with more questions than answers. Perhaps our war isn’t over, it just got put on pause and it will be our children, or grandchildren that will be fighting again in the mountains of Afghanistan. Or maybe, with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan there will be another 9/11 type attack on American soil. I’m still disappointed in the American withdrawal, still heartbroken for the 13 servicemembers, depressed about the innocent, and angry at the lack of responsibility. But like a lot of veterans, I still go back in my nightmares so maybe for us the War On Terror will never end. If you’re a veteran and you’re wondering what it was all for, it was for each other.
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