As we finally end our involvement in America’s Longest War, a war that has cost us more than 2,300 lives and approximately 21,000 wounded, we continue to hear the pros and cons for and against getting involved in Afghanistan in the first place, for and against staying in Afghanistan year after year and now, for and against withdrawing our troops.
Others say it is the right thing to do in an “unwinnable war.” Fathers and mothers of those who have died there have cried out “Our forces shouldn’t be there. It should be over. It’s done. No more.”
We have heard opinions from presidents, politicians, statesmen and women, the generals (real ones and “armchair ones”), Monday morning quarterbacks, soothsayers, academicians, pundits…
Interestingly — perhaps surprisingly — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani views President Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining troops from Afghanistan as “a moment of risk and opportunity…a path to peace for the country and the region.”
We have also heard from “ordinary Americans.”
A new poll conducted by the Charles Koch Institute shows that about two-thirds of U.S. adults (or 66%) support bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by September.
But how about military members and veterans? Those who fought, bled, and died there.
Of course, we will never know the views of the latter.
However, we will for always honor their service, mourn their ultimate sacrifice and vehemently decry the notion that they “died in vain,” that the withdrawal “dishonors” them, that the fewer than 20 servicemen killed annually in hostile engagements in Afghanistan since 2015, while “heartbreaking” is “tiny next to the number of troops who die in routine training accidents worldwide…is not an exorbitant price to pay to avert an outright Taliban victory.”
The same Koch survey also polled military members and veterans.
Surprise again. An even larger majority (68%) support the withdrawal.
It is not known to this author how many of those military members and veterans polled “fought and bled” in Afghanistan.
But a couple of days ago, I learned of a hero who not only fought and bled in Afghanistan, but also left parts of himself there.
You see, nine years ago, on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne lost both arms and both legs when he set his backpack on an improvised explosive device while on patrol there.
Thanks to his courage, his incredible will to live and the heroic actions of the men in his unit (“my guys wouldn’t let me die,” he says), he lived and became one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive such injuries.
In a poignant opinion piece at USA TODAY, Mills writes, “Am I angry we are pulling out after I sacrificed so much? I’m lucky — more than 2,300 service members will never come home at all to their spouses and parents and children. So no, I’m not angry.”
While he sees the point of “those who argue that we need to keep a military footprint in Kandahar and Bagram…we need some kind of presence,” Mills agrees with the president that “It’s time to go.”
Mills, who is married and has two children (below), says, “This was not a war we could win, really. How many more good men and women should go through what I’ve gone through? Not one.”
Yet, he does not think his days in Afghanistan were “wasted.”
He recalls how he and the troops “built wells so Afghan villagers could have fresh water…. built schools where, for the first time, Afghan girls were taught along with boys…built state-of-the-art hospitals.”
Do I have any regrets? Of course I do. I totally regret dropping my rucksack on that bomb.
But it is what it is. I don’t need any soldier to honor me by doing the same thing. I hope in my heart that the Afghan people can stand on their own, and that those wells and hospitals and schools help them.
But now it’s time for us to go.
Travis Mills, is the author of “Tough as They Come.” He founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization, formed to benefit and assist post 9/11 veterans who have been injured in active duty or as a result of their service to our nation and which runs a camp for injured post-9/11 veterans and their families in Maine “that is about to undergo a $5.7 million expansion.”
Mills’ amazing and inspiring story has been featured on many local and national news programs, including a touching interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar.
Watch it HERE.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.