Big Country veterans grapple with fall of Afghanistan

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ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The fall of Afghanistan has many victims, including the Afghan people and foreigners that worked alongside them. But the service men and women, whether active or retired, are feeling the sting of a decades-long war coming to what they say is an upsetting conclusion.

“One of the things that seems to be the most frustrating to them is the thought or belief that the images we’ve seen over the last week in Afghanistan could have been, and were, avoidable,” says retired Col. Michael Bob Starr, former Commander of Dyess Air Force Base.

Col. Starr was a member of the first group deployed to the country following the September 11th attacks. He says it was a relatively short affair compared to the length of engagement we’ve now seen.

“That deployment went for 4 or 5 months. We were there until the fall of the Taliban government and the establishment of the national Afghan government. At that point we kind of all thought it was over. We thought that we’d done our job. The mission we were given was to avenge those attacks and remove the Taliban from power, which we did,” Starr says.

But the American government’s subsequent promise to rebuild Afghanistan would see occupation last decades longer, now with a much less tangible end goal. Something that Nick Tapie, director and counselor for the Abilene Vet Center, says can be confusing to service members.

“When wars like these are prolonged, there’s a sense of feeling removed from the outcome,” said Tapie.

With this undefined goal at the end of a seemingly never ending tunnel, the way in which U.S. involvement did come to a close can be upsetting and even bring feelings of betrayal to those that served.

“They may individually, or even as a group, feel that their mission was accomplished, but overall see this outcome and question their leadership,” Tapie said.

While the past three presidencies, regardless of party, have discussed bringing the troops home with relative bi-partisan support, a close to the war was inevitable. Though according to Starr, it could have been handled better.

“We made some pretty important national security decisions without a lot of discussion and without a lot of engagement by the American public when those decisions were being made,” Starr stated.

Though those decisions brought unintended outcomes and will no doubt have a profound effect on the world moving forward, no war can last forever.

“It’s not the winner who gets to decide when the war is over, the loser decides. That’s the fallacy of thinking that we could declare when that conflict was over and leave as the winner. The fight is over when somebody says uncle. And in this case, we said uncle,” says Starr.

To continue indefinitely could have a cost too high to consider, both in dollars and lives, Starr says.

“We can’t occupy and hold all the ungoverned space on the planet. I don’t think we as a society are willing to pay that price. And it’s an awful big price to ask of the military,” says Starr.

But for those that gave life, time, friends, and dedication in effort of the nation’s wars now wondering what was gained, Tapie hopes they can gain solace by looking inward.

“My hope is that the veterans that we’re seeing here are aware of the work that they’ve done and the duty in what they’ve done and the honorable service that they performed and that that’s their focus,” Tapie says.

Any veterans in need of mental health services or who are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress related to combat, military sexual assault, or bereavement are welcome free of charge to visit the Abilene Vet Center. Follow the link here or call 877-WAR-VETS (927-8387)

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