• 2 Years After The Afghanistan Debacle, Veterans And Their Families Still Suffer

    August 6, 2023
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    At 1159 pm on 30 AUG 2021, the last C-17 aircraft carrying US service members left Kabul, ending a nearly 20-year war. The embarrassing final act marked the conclusion of America’s longest war. Terrorists were released, the Taliban resumed control of the country, billions of dollars worth of advanced weaponry were handed to the enemy, and American civilians remained trapped in the country.

    Statistics to recall from the war in Afghanistan:

                   832,000               estimated number service members who served in Afghanistan

    2,448                    service members killed or died of wounds

                   20,000+               service members wounded

                   1,500+                 service members with limbs amputated

                   0                            senior general officers (many West Pointers) fired or disciplined

    US military members served for many reasons including patriotism after 9/11. As an all-volunteer force, none served against their will, making the dedication of all who went all the more remarkable compared to other militaries and times in history where conscription provided large percentages of combat formations.

    Deployments risked life and limb. They also risked mental health, financial instability, relationships woes, and career progression (for reservists and national guardsmen). Service members knew the risks and went anyway.

    Deployments affected more than just those that deployed. Spouses sacrificed much for their loved ones. Emotional, financial, and marital hardships were experienced in varying degrees by all. Children experienced fear and separation anxiety as their parents served in a war zone.

    The suffering didn’t end on 30 August 2021. For many it continues. Many service members with physical wounds and amputations continue to struggle with pain, mobility, and activities of daily living. Not all wounds were visible. PTSD and other mental scars continue to plague many. As in prior wars, not all have sought help and suffer alone with depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Further, the suffering of families, children, and friends of those who deployed continues.

    In 2021, MG (Ret) Gregg Martin published an article in a Florida newspaper. He described the anguish and frustration of the Afghanistan veterans and bravely used candor rarely seen among active-duty generals these days. He wrote that soldiers contacted him after the US withdrawal saying:

    "I feel hurt, anger, resentment, anguish, rage, disbelief, powerlessness. My heart hurts.”

    “I’m devastated, heartbroken, and so sad. Haven’t left my apartment for a week.”

    “I’m in a very dark place.”

    He further commented that “[t]hese are the voices of some of our very best Americans who fought to defeat our enemies and build a better Afghanistan. They lost friends in battle and saw their buddies maimed. While most troops are justifiably proud of what they did at the tactical, local level, they’ve seen their efforts go up in smoke. They’re angry, sad, hurting and confused, and I fear the mental health of some of them will unravel so unrelentingly they’ll take their own lives.”[i]

    In 1962, General (Retired) Douglas MacArthur addressed the West Point Corps of Cadets in his final appearance at his alma mater. In his historic speech, he honored the US service member. His words of admiration for the dead apply equally to those who served in any war whether wounded or not:

    “He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.”

    As a physician I try my best to compartmentalize emotion and sorrow. Most, if not all, of those I served with did the same. That being said, not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on the smell of burned flesh and blood, the screams of injured soldiers, the sobbing of hardened warriors as the lament their buddies’ injuries and deaths. For most of us, what happened over there mattered and will never be forgotten. For many, the physical and mental wounds continue.

    The wounds and other traumas of deployment are bad enough. The ultimate failure of the mission and lack of leader accountability made matters worse for many. Service members deployed in hopes of making a difference in Afghanistan and the world. August 30 2021 showed all the venture was in vain. A google query of the search terms “generals,” “apology,” “Afghanistan” yields many hits for generals apologizing to Afghan civilians for various incidents over the prior two decades but 0 hits for generals apologizing to US troops for their failure of leadership and lack of truthfulness on the progress of the war.

    0 US senior commanders were disciplined or fired for their failures in Afghanistan. As generals continue to get promoted and receive lucrative defense jobs after retirement, it seems the senior commanders responsible for events in Afghanistan have little to no remorse for what they have done. Their energies since 2021 seem show more concern for the mental well-being of LGTBQ+ active duty members, most of whom never served in war, than for the well-being of Afghanistan veterans. Generals may appear to be making efforts to ensure that Afghanistan is another “forgotten war” as its memory reminds the country that its military leaders lied and failed.

    The war will never be forgotten by the service members, their families, and everyone else affected by it.

    John Hughes, MD
    Veteran of Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan

    Member of STARRS.US

    President of the MacArthur Society of West Point Graduates


    [i] https://www.floridatoday.com/story/life/wellness/2021/11/30/end-afghan-war-has-led-depression-suicide-among-veterans/8770127002/

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    John Hughes

    Emergency Physician. United States Military Academy Class of 1996. #1 graduate. 3rd Generation West Pointer. 4 combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. STARRS member.
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    Amy Williams

    God Bless our Bravest and Best😔❤️🇺🇸

    Mad Celt

    They knew the job was dangerous when they took it.

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