In a Changing World, Our Military Keeps Fighting in Afghanistan
Thousands of U.S. service members have served and sacrificed during America’s longest war.
When President George W. Bush launched the war in Afghanistan in 2001, there was no Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or iPhone.
Few had heard of an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama. In New York, real estate tycoon Donald Trump was still three years away from hosting a new TV show called The Apprentice.
The world has changed dramatically since U.S. troops took the fight to al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11. The selfless courage of our nation’s military community, however, has remained constant in Afghanistan, where more than 2,400 Americans have died and many more have been injured. Thousands of veterans also struggle with war’s invisible wounds.
The Presidents and Afghanistan
During a Monday night speech to announce that U.S. forces will stay in Afghanistan, President Trump acknowledged the enormous burdens shouldered by U.S. troops and military families.
As long as there are extraordinary Americans volunteering to confront evil in faraway places, the world will be that much safer.
“First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives,” the nation’s 45th commander-in-chief said in a nationally televised address from Fort Myer in Arlington, Va. “The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.”
I vividly remember watching President Bush announce the invasion almost 16 years ago.
“In the months ahead, our patience will be one of our strengths – patience with the long waits that will result from tighter security, patience and understanding that it will take time to achieve our goals, patience in all the sacrifices that may come,” the 43rd president said at the White House on Oct. 7, 2001. “Today, those sacrifices are being made by members of our armed forces who now defend us so far from home, and by their proud and worried families.”
I also remember President Obama addressing the nation on Afghanistan less than a year after he took office.
“As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you have fought in Afghanistan. Many will deploy there,” the 44th president said at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Dec. 1, 2009. “As your commander-in-chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service.”
The following years, 2010 and 2011, were the two deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Yet every single day, our brave men and women continued putting on our country’s uniform and astonishing us with their gallantry.
Some Brave We’ve Lost
On Valentine’s Day in 2011, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter was shot by an enemy sniper while fighting in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province. I attended his funeral in Tennessee, where the fallen hero’s pregnant wife, Crissie, was surrounded by a heartbroken community as she wept. I will never forget that day or the resilience Crissie Carpenter and the couple’s young son, Landon, have displayed in the six years since.
On Aug. 9, 2011, I was at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to watch President Obama salute the flag-draped caskets of thirty fallen American warriors who were killed when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. It was the single deadliest incident of the entire war. As long as I live, I will remember the faces of the grieving military parents, wives and children at the solemn ceremony.
On May 24, 2012, I visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to meet a wounded soldier, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills. Less than two months earlier, Travis had lost his arms and legs during a battlefield explosion in Afghanistan. Despite dealing with unimaginable challenges, Travis smiled throughout our visit, and has kept doing so in the five years since while inspiring everyone around him.
These are just a few heroes of the war in Afghanistan. After President Trump’s announcement, we know there will be more. We also agonize over the potential of more pain, more widows, and more children growing up without their moms or dads. Every day until the war is over, we must support and pray for the safe, swift return of these American patriots to their loving families.
Indeed, the world has changed considerably in the last 16 years. ISIS has now joined al Qaeda and the Taliban in terrorizing the people of Afghanistan, while some of the 8,400 U.S. troops currently serving in the war-torn country hadn’t started kindergarten when the conflict began.
Still, as long as there are extraordinary Americans volunteering to confront evil in faraway places, the world will be that much safer. As President Bush said shortly after 9/11, “freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.”
Tom Sileo is co-author of the forthcoming 8 SECONDS OF COURAGE: A Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor. Follow him on Twitter @TSileo.