The Longest War: Veterans Reflect On 20 Years Of Conflict In Afghanistan
This is Part II in our series The Longest War.
The U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is officially over.
But for the more than 800,000 men and women who served there — not a day goes by that they don’t think about it.
Some feel a measure of success:
“The genie is out of the bottle in Afghanistan, the Taliban may try to turn back the clock, but they can’t,” Bajun Mavalwalla says. “We have moved that country forward and it’s irreversible. I’m actually slightly optimistic for the long haul.”
Others feel no optimism at all:
“It felt awful to be involved in a conflict that was pointless because every every bad thing that happens didn’t have to,” Laura Jedeed says. “The feeling that it was for nothing … there’s a nihilism to it. … It rots the soul.”
In the second installment of our series ‘The Longest War,’ veterans talk about how U.S. soldiers may have left Afghanistan, but the war has not left them.
Bajun Mavalwalla, retired intelligence officer with the California National Guard. He served with the Army’s 19th Special Forces Group from 2002-2003. He now runs a small defense training and security company with his son, but they’ve put their business on hold and are working to help Afghans leave their country. (@BajunMavalwalla)
Baji Mavalwalla, former sergeant with the California National Guard as an electronic warfare voice intercept operator. He deployed to Afghanistan from March 2012 until December 2012.
Laura Jedeed, former sergeant with the Army’s 82nd Airborne, she served as an intelligence analyst. She deployed to Afghanistan twice – for three months in 2008 and a year in 2010. (@LauraJedeed)
Tim Kudo, former marine captain with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2009 and 2011. (@KudoTim)
Show Highlights: Tim Kudo Shares His Story
Tim Kudo served in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. He was a captain with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. He’s in graduate school now and at work on a novel, looking back on his time in Afghanistan.
Below, he shares how war in Afghanistan changed him:
There’s the me before war and the me after war, and they exist simultaneously. And yet they have very little to do with each other. And so part of me tries to live in one version of myself most of the time, the current version, the person that has gone on to graduate school, and used the GI Bill and has a relatively kind of normal life. And the part of me that existed at war and before war.
I return to those moments before the war when I was a different person, and I kind of mourned whoever that was.
We lost five Marines when we were over there with my company. And there were missions that I sent them on often, and I think about could we have done things differently? You know, did we need to go into the wadi in the middle of the valley to set up an outpost that was only later to be taken over by the Taliban? Did we need to go on a patrol a particular day where we ended up getting in a firefight, where we ended up killing two Afghan civilians by accident?
We got in a firefight and there were these two men who came up over a hill on the high ground on a motorcycle. And as we were getting shot at and trying to figure out who was shooting at us and, you know, shooting back. And they just kind of stopped there right above us. Great position if they wanted to start shooting at us. And so we wave at them to go away, yell at them. And they just come closer. And so even then, the Marines didn’t fire. They still were very disciplined about it. And they were just disciplined to the end.
But ultimately, one of them saw what looked like a muzzle flash. And so the Marines opened up fire. The people on the motorcycle immediately fell over dead. We rushed to the two men on the motorcycle, and they are dead. They were trying to get home. The home was a building that we were kind of crouched in front of.
And at that moment, the family of these two men who had seen all this happen in front of them comes rushing out of the building.
The women are screaming, the men are screaming, crying. And they surround us to get the bodies, to just take the bodies, to be buried. They were just two kids, basically. Maybe one was about 16 years old, the other a little bit older. And they’re just trying to get home. And you kind of realize in that moment those two dead young men ultimately lost that battle for us. Not just the battle of the firefight, but the battle for that village.
Because how can you kill two people that are everyone’s cousins, uncles and nephews and expect them to support you in any way?
I made a decision. People are dead because of that. I could have made a different decision, and I’m responsible for that. And I have no right to forgive myself, because I’m not the person who was wronged. They were. The family could forgive me all they want, but the only people who can truly forgive me are dead. And so that can never happen. And that will always be something that I have to live with.
It’s very difficult to recognize that the most important thing that I’ve done in my life, those seven months that I spent there, was ultimately a failure.
And so I go back to that regularly to wonder, is there something I could have done differently? Should I have done something differently? I think that for many veterans, there is a desire for either understanding, or acceptance or validation from civilians who simply are unable to give it. Because they don’t understand that experience that you’ve been through.
And the paradox of it ultimately is that the reason that you went over there to fight and undergo those experiences is so the people back home could retain that innocence. And so part of the challenge is coming to grips with that. That that is inherently what the sacrifice is. … That you will never be understood by these people who live innocent lives because of the things that you’ve done at war.
I’m not hopeful, I think at this point, that we will be able to prevent the next war. But I think about what we can tell … the next generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, the Marines who are thinking about joining right now, to help them come to understand what it means to go to war.
And what it means to join as one person, serve and come back as a completely different person.
And I think a lot of those kids, they hope that when they come back, they’re just going to restart their lives just like they left them. And the reality is that when you join the military, if there is a war and you go and fight in it, that will kill that person that joined.
From The Reading List
Laura Jedeed’s Medium: “Afghanistan Meant Nothing” — “By the time you read this, the Taliban may already be in Kabul. If not now, then soon. Nixon wanted — and got — his decent interval between the United States pullout of Vietnam and the inevitable North Vietnamese takeover.”
Washington Post: “I killed people in Afghanistan. Was I right or wrong?” — “When I joined the Marine Corps, I knew I would kill people. I was trained to do it in a number of ways, from pulling a trigger to ordering a bomb strike to beating someone to death with a rock. As I got closer to deploying to war in 2009, my lethal abilities were refined, but my ethical understanding of killing was not.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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