Why Were We There?

Watching the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, our servicemen and women are left wondering what their sacrifices were for.

My journey as a United States Army soldier began at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, on May 23rd, 2001. Two weeks after I graduated basic training the towers fell. Fast forward to a two-tier career, first as a Combat Engineer then as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician. I have four tours of duty under my belt and 12 years of active-duty service. I was medically retired in June 2013.

During all that time, I knew nothing of the peacetime Army. Instead, deployments had become the new normal. Friends, colleagues, and mentors who held special places in my life would be wounded, and some of them would die.

After a while, September 11th quickly stopped being a reason to fight. It was replaced with the phrase many would ask, “Why are we here?” At the time, I’d always shrugged, confident we’d learned our lessons about the end game.

U.S. M-ATVs in Afghanistan.

U.S. M-ATVs in Afghanistan.

After I got wounded, I was on the outside, looking in. The focus at the time was the drawdown of our presence in Iraq—with us leaving behind a vacuum. That vacuum was ISIS, and for years, that was all anyone could talk about.

President Trump allowed our military to roar…

Personally, I was distraught. After all the time I spent there, all that effort, all those lives lost, I thought ISIS would become a global threat, and what’s worse, I helped cause it. And for a while, I believed there was no hope for Iraq—no hope until a man with yellow hair and a constant orange tan stepped in.

President Trump allowed our military to roar, destroying ISIS with lighting speed and efficiency. For the first time in years, I felt proud of my status as a veteran, for the time I’d spent in service to my country. But you can always count on the left to ruin any day.

President Biden’s (still disputed win) came as a shock. The bigger shock came a few weeks ago, as he completely ruined all that hard work—twenty years of blood, sweat, tears, and death, twenty years fought by thousands of people just like me.

U.S. Troops at FOB Baylough, Afghanistan.

U.S. Troops at FOB Baylough, Afghanistan.

By May, when the troops were scheduled to leave, Afghanistan was completely overrun by the Taliban. On August 15th, they got to Kabul. In Kabul, Americans were left to fend for themselves, service dogs left to suffer, and our Afghan allies deserted, facing torture and execution. Other nations stepped up to get their people out, but President Biden did nothing. The last week of the withdrawal was the most devastating: 13 beautiful people were killed by a vehicle IED. Eventually, the last C-17 flew out. President Biden called it a rousing success. I wanted to vomit.

Even as I write, it is hard for me to fathom that there are still Americans trapped over there.

Even as I write, it is hard for me to fathom that there are still Americans trapped over there. My entire career I was told we leave no one behind—that Americans leave no one behind. But today I realize that was all a farce. Joe Biden, his administration, and the Joint Chiefs might as well have given each soldier, sailor, marine, and airman a punch in the face because that’s exactly what the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan felt like.

September 11th from now until the day I die will forever be me remembering my friends who died, and asking, Why were we there?”

This article is part of a Human Events Opinion Special Collection released September 11th, 2021: “9/11: A Twenty Year Retrospective.” You can read the other pieces in the collection here.

Written By:

SSG (Ret.) Stephen Phillips is a retired Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and currently living in the Birmingham area.