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Check on Afghanistan war veterans and give them time to mourn and reflect | Opinion

As a veteran of the Afghanistan war who deployed three times, my request is that we pause before we anxiously dive into the partisan crossfire.

MIKE KRAUSE | GUEST COLUMNIST | 9:43 am CDT August 17, 2021

 

  • Mike Krause deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as a member of the 101st Airborne Division and subsequently completed two additional deployments to Iraq.

The most awe-inspiring night sky I have ever seen was in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It was April of 2002, and as I sat on the blacked-out tarmac and stared upward, I saw the stars as if for the first time. There was no light pollution, no smog. Just a carpet of twinkling lights laid out from one end of the horizon to the other.

I was one of what was considered the lucky few to “get” to deploy to the region. The non-deploying soldiers at Fort Campbell looked at our desert uniforms with envy, wishing they had the chance to do what we were getting to do: something, anything, after the 9/11 attacks. 

The military dubbed our campaign "Operation Enduring Freedom," a soaring title that matched how we felt as we adorned our gear with FDNY patches and focused our minds on getting the terrorists that killed thousands of Americans the previous fall.

What followed, like most military experiences, was equal parts boredom and excitement, with most of our days spent in a neighboring country at a spartan airfield. My platoon was proud of the supporting role we played, and it felt like we had done our own small part for America’s "Good War."

But whatever scenario we might have imagined for the future of Afghanistan at that time, I can assure you none of us would have dared envision the nightmare currently unfolding.

Now is not the time for blame; keep the focus on our troops

I wish I could offer nuanced foreign policy observations or some insight that makes this all seem a little better. But I can’t. Right now, I am not sure anyone can. So instead, I write to make two requests.

First, I’d like to ask those inflaming the political arguments inherent in a crisis of this gravity to pause for a moment. On one side of the aisle, people are rubbing their hands together excitedly, anxious to pin this disaster on the current president.

On the other side of the aisle, there is great eagerness to prove how the previous president’s actions led to this situation.

My request is that we pause before we anxiously dive into the partisan crossfire. Let’s give our country, and the veterans and family members who have sacrificed so much, some time to mourn and reflect, and most importantly, catalyze positive action for the brave Afghans that assisted our country and are now in grave danger.

I think this more caring and respectful approach, rather than jumping immediately into the vitriol of Twitter or the talking heads on cable and talk radio, is the most appropriate balm we could apply to our national wounds.

We will have decades to analyze these events, and rest assured, the demagogues will have ample time to sew their seeds of division. For now, I hope we will be Americans together, if only for a moment.

We must look after the mental health of our veterans

The second, and most important, request is to my fellow veterans. Our generation of veterans has been in the throes of a significant mental health battle for years, and a heartbreaking suicide toll makes this point in the most tragic way.

Literally every Iraq or Afghanistan veteran I know has lost a buddy to suicide. We should be clear-eyed that we are in a high-risk time for veterans that may be struggling.

So, my plea to the men and women that have worn the uniform and may find themselves in distress is simply to reach out.

I will fully admit how hard some of the sights from Kabul have been for me to process, and the only thing that helped was the opportunity to vent and commiserate with others that have served.

Perhaps it’s as simple as calling a member of your platoon, maybe it’s reaching out to the Department of Veterans Affairs to talk to someone or calling the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).

Whatever the approach, the immediate imperative is that veterans don’t suffer through this time in silence. We have leaned on each other before, in foxholes and in Humvees on IED laden roads.

It’s in our DNA as soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to take care of the troops beside us, and I hope the next few weeks, painful as they may be, are a time when we lean in together yet again.

 

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