Afghanistan Withdrawal: ‘The First Year is the Toughest’
Marine Corps veteran Beau Wise, the only U.S. service member to lose two brothers in Afghanistan, reflects on one year since the end of America's longest war.
When I asked U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran Beau Wise to reflect on the one year anniversary of the end of the war in Afghanistan, his first words were about people, not politics.
“I think more about the families now – now more than ever. The families of the eleven Marines, one soldier and one corpsman who were lost at this time last year,” Beau told The Stream. “The first year is the toughest and I’ve been wondering about them – wondering how they’re doing.”
Those 13 Gold Star families – the last to lose loved ones during the longest war in American history – are feeling pain that Beau knows all too well. That’s because Beau is the only U.S. service member or veteran to lose two brothers in Afghanistan. He was permanently removed from combat service after his second brother was killed in action in 2012.
“What I remind myself is that Ben and Jeremy died saving lives,” Beau said. “This is another example of why I always remind myself of that.”
Like many of his fellow Afghanistan veterans and Gold Star family members, Beau was disgusted and dismayed by the chaotic exit from a country where nearly 2,500 Americans – including his two brothers – made the ultimate sacrifice. Thousands more came home with visible and invisible wounds that forever reshaped their lives.
Was the war in Afghanistan worth it?
“To be really honest, it kind of was a waste,” Beau said. “I mean that by the nature of how we pulled out, and all the people we put in danger by letting the Taliban do our jobs for us.”
Having known Beau for more than four years, I know that wasn’t easy for him to say. Hailing from Arkansas, the Wise family is about as patriotic as they come. Long before Ben, Jeremy and Beau volunteered to serve, their grandfathers and great grandfathers were fighting in the first two world wars.
Like the vast majority of Americans, Beau supported the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and – after watching Jeremy become a Navy SEAL and Ben an Army Green Beret – wanted to join his big brothers and do his part. While they all had individual reasons for joining the military, the Wise brothers shared two common goals: defending the defenseless and killing terrorists.
One of America’s biggest victories in Afghanistan came after American troops had already left. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a senior 9/11 planner who was Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man until eventually taking over as al-Qaeda’s terrorist leader, was killed last month by a CIA drone strike. The news was personal to Beau and his family since Zawahiri was directly involved in the 2009 suicide bombing that killed Jeremy and six other members of the CIA.
“I’m glad that Zawahiri is dead, but I’m even more glad that he was killed in Afghanistan,” Beau said. “It catches the Taliban because there’s no hiding that there’s collusion between them and al-Qaeda. All the promises the Taliban made are null and void.”
Even after Zawahiri’s death, Beau – who served two combat deployments in Afghanistan – worries another major terrorist attack could be launched from the country where 9/11 was planned.
“I do think about the long-term effects about not having a presence in that region,” he said.
Get The Stream’s daily news roundup, quick and served with a healthy splash of humor. Subscribe to The Brew
Every day, veterans like Beau think about what they did and saw in Afghanistan. Gold Star family members like Beau look at empty chairs where their loved ones once sat. For them, America’s longest war will never truly be over.
What brings Beau some measure of comfort is thinking about the people who survived the war because of what his big brothers were willing to sacrifice in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.
“There are Navy SEALs, Green Berets and CIA officers alive and kicking because of Ben and Jeremy Wise,” Beau said. “Forget about the politics: it was about saving lives.”
Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is author of the forthcoming Be Bold and co-author of Three Wise Men, Brothers Forever, 8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on Twitter @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.