Mental Health: Open Letter to Afghanistan Veterans

(Niceville, Florida; August 17, 2021) – I cannot offer any witty remarks or humorous proverbs about what happened yesterday in Afghanistan.  I’m a veteran myself.  My deployments were at sea, but all were in support of my brothers and sisters on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I helped launch the first Navy manned strikes of Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, when I was with VF-213 deployed aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).

With only two exceptions, everything that happened to me, everything that left physical and mental injuries, happened on those deployments.  I know some who didn’t come home, and I know more people than I can count who lost a friend, brother, sister, father, mother…etc.

I personally became convinced long ago we needed to withdraw from Afghanistan.  We’d won the war we set out to fight; we punished the Taliban for harboring and protecting the 9/11 terrorists.  I was less than thrilled we slipped into the tragic mistake of nation building.  But, still, we were there.  Even knowing we’d have to withdraw, I trusted we’d have a plan in place that would be executed professionally.  I trusted we’d keep our word to bring out those Afghans who did risk everything to help us, and that we’d bring home all the weapons and equipment we deployed there in addition to the people we made commitments too.  I didn’t think I needed to even think about us summarily abandoning our own citizens to the terrorist killers.

I fully respect you if you believe we should still be in country.  That’s not the point of this open letter.  However, as I did make my own position clear, I believe it imperative to put in writing that I respect your opinion if you hold to a different position than I do.

What all of us share, and most especially you who were on the ground pounding the sand in that place because WE THE PEOPLE said it was necessary, is horror at the ghastly endgame we witnessed Monday.  Yesterday’s utter catastrophe heaped scorn on everything I believe, everything I thought I was part of, and, most grievously, on the very graves of those who gave the last full measure of devotion because WE THE PEOPLE said it was necessary.  Instead of honoring our commitments to those Afghans who did help us, we cut them loose. Instead of bringing home all the weapons and equipment we deployed, we left it all as a gift to the terrorists.  Instead of bringing out our civilian citizens ahead of time, we ignored them.

Many of us, and especially those who were on the ground, are likely to be feeling some combination of betrayal, grief, humiliation, and disillusionment.  These feelings are to be expected and none of us are alone in them.  I can’t offer any solace on what we all served for.  I cannot offer any words of comfort that it ‘made a difference.’  Frankly, I’m bitter and feel I wasted most of my adult life in uniform for WE THE PEOPLE after watching this internationally televised humiliation. 

There is, however, one thing I can offer during this dark moment—assurance that you’re not alone if you’re a veteran feeling traumatized by this. 

Don’t Lone Ranger it.  Last night I reached out to the local VFW and DAV here in Niceville.  I’m only here until a townhouse I’m buying over in Pensacola is completed (new development), and I did plan to plug into the veteran community over there.  However, I am here for another few weeks, and I’ve been thrust into a very dark place by these events, so I’m reaching out to connect with others.  I feel alone, yes, but I know I’m not alone.  However, just ‘knowing’ something isn’t enough, so I’m working to connect with other veterans here in the local Niceville area.  I’m not alone.

Neither are you.

We are veterans of military service.  We’ve all faced trials, and many of us faced mortal danger (on or off the actual battlefield).  We got through those times by our courage, stamina, resourcefulness, and our camaraderie with our brothers and sisters in uniform.  Veterans still serving have those immediate resources, in addition to the ecclesiastical and mental health programs of the military.  Those of us who are now civilians may not have as quick access to such camaraderie and support, but we do have ready access to ecclesiastical support if we are believers, access to emergency mental health resources, and we can be there for each other.  We can get through this dark time together.

I can’t make things better for you; I can only make them better for myself.  Each of us can only heal ourselves, but healing ourselves is often predicated on having companions who understand and have walked similar roads.  We still have the same courage, resourcefulness, and ingenuity we had when we were serving.  We can use those traits to navigate this, especially if we do it together.

Don’t be ashamed if you find you can’t talk to your ‘normal’ crowd, such as your loved ones.  Something like this is so big and so uniquely personal that you need to find fellow veterans to work it through with.  That’s not a betrayal of those you love; it’s just reality of needing the right people to help you at this time.  I’m living with family in Niceville right now.  These are people who care about me unconditionally,  but this is something I have to admit to myself I’m not comfortable opening up to them about even though they’re veterans too.  This is not a reflection on them, nor on our relationship; it’s only a reflection of the legitimate need to talk with other veterans who have been on a similar road.

Allow yourself permission to feel whatever it is you feel.  Allow yourself permission to seek out companionship and camaraderie with those who you feel comfortable talking to.  Allow yourself permission to be human and take the time you need in order to move through this safely.

You are not alone, even if you feel you are.  I’ve included some links below you can reach out to for help, and you can reach me personally through the comments section here.  I’m not a counselor; I’m just a Navy veteran who has his own path to tread, but if I can help steer you towards a resource that resonates with you, I will.

Let us reach out to each other.  In so doing, as we ‘care for [them] who shall have borne the battle and for [their] widow and…orphan,” we’ll find the care we need until we can walk out of whatever dark place we might be in.

– Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, and press 1; or, go to: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/hotline

– Military OneSource: 1-800-342-9647

– I filmed a brief video about this topic at: https://youtu.be/aQHxRjXZhIY

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