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COMMENTARY

Veteran’s Day 2021: A Trilogy of Veteran Reflections

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On this Veteran’s Day, Human Events is pleased to offer readers the following unique contributions from three American Veterans who have each served their country in uniform, and who now continue to serve their country and their fellow soldiers even after their uniforms have been pressed and put away.

Opinion columns honoring those who have served and sacrificed on behalf of their country are common each year on this date. What is not common is to be able to see pieces written by Veteran’s who are not already well known to the general public.  Human Events is honored to give these three everyday Veterans doing not so everyday things a platform on which to share their thoughts on this most special American day of remembrance.

Brent Hamachek – Editor

What Veterans Left Behind in Afghanistan

Submitted by William Ary

Here we are in 2021, and the repercussions of America pulling out of Afghanistan are in full effect. From the time we entered Afghanistan in 2001 to now, we have seen sons and daughters fight a war their parents fought. We have seen unimaginable pain and suffering, and sometimes it felt like we left with more questions than answers. Many good Americans put their blood, sweat, and tears into making a corner of Central Asia a better place on the planet. I’m glad our military’s deployment has ended, but our chaotic exit is a scar on American values and our military.

I served in the United States Army and deployed for three tours in Afghanistan. I spent months walking the terrain, learning the language, and discovering its people and culture during my first deployment. I lost friends in that country. A few who made it back home, I lost because of their reaction to our shared experiences. Afghanistan will always be a part of the man I have become.

Most of America’s military culture is steeped in history, wrapped in tradition, and immersed in an ethos to protect those who protect us. We study great men and women who fought before us and internalize their wars and battles. My Company Commander used to say, “You can learn from mistakes, but they don’t have to be your mistakes.” I remember learning about Operation Rhino when members of the 3rd Ranger Battalion jumped into Afghanistan and began America’s longest war. That was two long decades ago. 

When America left Afghanistan in August, a tragedy occurred. Our enemies retook the country, and it is difficult to find meaning in the lives that my brothers and sisters lost. We had decades to plan for this exit, yet we scurried out in the middle of the night as if ashamed of our accomplishments and sacrifice. For 15 weeks, we have debated or pointed fingers at the decisions of four administrations, but the blame game will not bring closure and understanding. 

Americans sacrificed their children to root out terrorism when the battle was in Afghanistan. We worked to prepare their culture for the freedoms and prosperity that can stem from democracy. 

We trained their police and soldiers using the same equipment and lessons used in the United States. Unfortunately, when it was time for us to pass the baton to the Afghan government, they handed it back to the enemy, from which we liberated them 20 years earlier. 

American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, this is not on you. You served your time, and you completed your mission. For those who did not make it home, we will never forget your sacrifice. 

As for the Americans trapped overseas because of the massive takeover of major cities by terrorists and the melee at Kabul’s airport, I say one person left behind is too many. The army ethos, “I will never leave a fallen comrade,” is wholeheartedly true. Anyone in a war zone who fought and helped Americans in Afghanistan should be brought back home by any means necessary. America must assist the Afghan refugees and Americans fleeing Taliban rule, and it is our duty.

Our team at American Duty tells the story of veteran volunteers working to save lives in Afghanistan and fundraises for operations that restore faith in America. We have success stories to tell of Americans and our Afghan friends who escaped Afghanistan and the challenges to exfiltrate and care for those traveling a path toward an exit. 

Revered men formed an America that brings together the best of many cultures, and our success outpaces anything seen before. Immigrants, future Americans, fled their country for freedom and ran toward the values our country offered. Each immigrant wants the same thing, an opportunity to succeed so their children can have a better life than they experienced. Afghanistan was in trouble, and America and swooped in to extinguish the flames of terrorism. We promised a better life to our friends; now, we need to keep that promise.

The adage remains true, “You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make it drink.”

We did all we could hope for Afghanistan. Now it’s time to do all we can for those left behind.

William Ary is a decorated United States Army combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan three times. He serves as Senior Advisor to American Duty; a humanitarian non-profit focused on refugee assistance and relocation, taking action in Central Asia on the Afghanistan issue to protect those who protected us.

The “Suicide Guy” and the Spartan Pledge

Submitted by Boone Cutler

When people forget my name, they usually remember things that describe me: suicide, Warfighter, great hair, and sunglasses. I have the dual honor and displeasure in the veteran community for being known as ‘The Suicide Guy.’ It’s displeasure because who the hell wants to be known for this? And, it’s an honor because of the steps I took to get here. The great hair is noticeable and requires no explanation so let’s jump to the rest. 

In 2005, I deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, to fight against the Iranian-backed Mehdi Militia. Although I came home, the struggle didn’t end. For me, the enemy changed, and the war was far from over. In 2016, I was MedEvac’d to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and started a struggle many Warfighters fight; I fought suicide. 

A lot of us fought suicide when we came home, and many of us still do. We miss the Warfighter family with whom we deployed and the war because there is comfort in an environment we trained for and excelled within. 

I was lonely, hateful, and in chronic pain; I didn’t have a mission anymore. For a Warfighter, our life is the mission, and without a mission, there is no purpose in life. We are obsessed, and we like it. Most of us cringe at the idea of what we see as a pathetic civilian life that lacks familiar ethos. We all have one question, “When can I go back?” We love our families and don’t want to leave them, and we are not adrenaline-addicted junkies, even though it might seem so. Yet, we yearn to go back because it’s another home.

We like dedicating ourselves to the person to the left or the right of us and are mutually devoted to one another in the ‘until-death-do-us-apart’ guarantee only found in war. We live for it, we’ve killed or stood ready to kill for it, and we’d rather be dead than live without it. That’s it. Nothing more.  

We have regrets, sure, even when things aren’t our fault. Some things happen in war that we can’t be prepared to face. We are comfortable managing the business end of quickly evolving variables in a world of life, death, and extreme violence without time to digest the chaos before the next mission. Success means putting mental health on the shelf until later. These actions and decisions are how we survive in the space between our ears and stay focused.

At some point, ‘later’ catches up, and the Guilt Monster visits us, sometimes in a bottle or a revolving prescription of drugs unleashes it. The Guilt Monster is real and until we realize it, the monster has the power. 

After two years in the hospital and another two years on a cocktail of opiates, anti-anxiety meds, sleep meds, excessive YouTube war videos, and whatever else I could ingest to get through the nights, I received a phone call. On the other end of the line was a Warfighter – a brother, and the topic of suicide came up. We depended on each other for survival in Iraq, but it took four years to have an honest conversation about our lonely, individual battles with suicidal ideation. It was a shock. Every Warfighter knows the one death you’ll never mourn is your own. In many cases, killing yet another person becomes nothing more than a number. But, when it’s your brother that might die by his own hand, the world stops. 

That day the world stopped for me. I couldn’t help myself get out of my hole that day, but I wouldn’t let my brother die. If I killed myself, who would be alive to stop him from succumbing to his demons? Taking myself out of the fight might inadvertently scrub his life out as well. 

It became apparent what we were missing, a battle buddy and a mission on this side of the wire. We didn’t have a battle drill to guide us when the sh*t hit the fan or when we got ambushed by suicidal thoughts. We made a plan that our battle drill was to speak to the other person, at least to say goodbye before either of us took our own life. We are grown men, and neither can stop the other from succumbing to suicide. But, before we take that final action, we pledge first to make contact. 

Since then, our original agreement has become the Spartan Pledge:

“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my Warfighter family.”

This pledge is a battle drill for Warfighters in crisis. Across the country, Warfighters come together at Spartan Pledge ceremonies to take the pledge together. Some take the pledge privately one-on-one. It works because we built the system ourselves. We believe in it because we only trust each other, and it invokes the Warrior Ethos of never leaving anyone behind. We don’t take the Spartan Pledge for ourselves; we take it for the other person. We dedicate a part of our life to having a mission again, helping the community we love, and reestablishing the fellowship of Warfighters.

This Veterans Day, tell your veteran friends about our pledge.

As for my dark sunglasses, well, I’m just cool like that.

Boone Cutler is a decorated combat veteran, author, columnist, and the Co-Founder of Spartan Sword, a non-profit focused on veteran suicide prevention. Their activities and Spartan Pledge are well known in the veteran community and been adopted by VA hospitals to address veteran suicide.

Protecting Those Who Protected us

Submitted by James Oleen

This Veterans Day, American citizens woke up in Central Asia unable to return home. Forty-five minutes after the fall of Kabul, I received a call from veterans taking action in Central Asia. We all stood up because someone had to. I founded American Duty to tell the story of veteran volunteers working to save lives in Afghanistan, address their mental health needs, and fundraise for operations that restore faith in America. 

Everyone who served in uniform took an oath to never leave anyone behind on the battlefield. Weaved into our character is this doctrine, and we will take every action necessary to keep our promise.

American Duty works with a coalition of veteran volunteers who saved lives at Abby Gate, are moving refugees to safe houses, and coordinating medical care throughout Afghanistan. The first 80 hours of this operation, I slept for 10. I didn’t eat those days, and when I finally did, I had a stomachache. It took all my strength not to collapse in the shower one night at 4:30 AM. The next day, I fought off depression because I could not make decisions as quickly as needed. This battle rhythm is the norm for everyone involved. We are spending our savings on this mission, continuing work at our day jobs, and raising our children. We are awake all night to fill a tragic void created by America’s rapid pull-out. 

Today in Afghanistan, lists identifying Americans, our Afghan allies, and their locations are for sale on the open market. People are selling the lives of our friends to the highest bidder; often, the enemy America fought for 20-years. If we don’t buy those lists before bad people do, then bad things will happen. 

American Duty is one of many guides on Afghanistan’s path to freedom, helping refugees move safety toward an exit, delivering food and medical care, and giving them a genuine chance to survive. Every night, our friends move on a treacherous path to another safe house and an eventual exit under cover of darkness. Their only motivations are texts of hope from us and the promise of a better life.

Our coalition comprises several disparate groups, each with a highly specialized skill working together to save lives. Former senior government officials and elected representatives, retired flag officers, teachers, farmers, and stay-at-home parents advise and work among us. We no longer have access to the tools we once used in the military. Today, we conduct our communication, coordination, and intelligence work using commercial off-the-shelf software and equipment. Despite the lack of resources, we are singularly focused on our mission and succeed every day.

We have success stories. I have shared meals with Afghan refugees our coalition saved and Americans we abandoned in August. Weekly, we educate Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle and speak with corporate and civic leaders. Operations are ongoing. We actively save our friends and plan to help restart their lives somewhere safe, not necessarily inside the United States.  

We follow the Department of State’s refugee vetting process and guidelines for assistance and resettlement. Our efforts meet or exceed the department’s standard to assess refugees’ medical or national security threats.

Afghan refugees entering the United States must process in camps at several military bases before entering American society. Some refugees have families living in the U. S. and can quickly exit, while most lack these connections, unable to leave. We assemble lists of refugees seeking sponsorship opportunities and Americans or organizations interested in sponsoring them.

American Duty seeks to help America’s newest group of legal immigrants as they become our nation’s next success story. We link Afghan refugees to existing programs teaching English, civics, and entrepreneurship. Our Afghan friends do not need university educations, they need jobs, and we connect them with apprenticeships and job training in the trades. America prides its ability to integrate the best of the world’s cultures to strengthen our own. Historically we have succeeded; tomorrow, our nation will become a better place with our Afghan friends, our future citizens.

Everyone with whom we work is a volunteer, and no one is getting rich from this effort. All donations go directly toward operations to save lives, advocate in the media or on Capitol Hill, and to protect those who protected us.

Veterans Day is a time to honor and thank veterans for their service to our country. Today, I ask you to also thank veterans for saving Americans and our allies who are in harm’s way in Afghanistan. We pledged The Warrior Ethos and will do everything in our power to keep our promises.

Today, please say a prayer for each veteran, our friends in Afghanistan, and the veteran volunteers working around the globe.

James Oleen is the founder of American DutyHe works to recruit, train, and support conservative veterans for elected office. He is a combat veteran of the United States Army, specializing in media relations and communications.