A few months back, our editor, Cally Peterson, shared with me a story idea chronicling her personal experience as an 11-year-old in our nation’s capital on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a horrific day for our country, and one that charted a different course for many – me included.
In light of the current events in Afghanistan, the emotion I have as we recognize the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is heavy. I am devastated by the images and news of the abrupt fall of Afghanistan and saddened for the girls, women and Afghan citizens who hope for a future free of oppression.
This is personal for me.
I was a member of a N.D. National Guard unit that was mobilized from December 2005 through March 2007 and later deployed to Afghanistan. I will refrain from placing blame for 20 years of conflict from afar, as self-proclaimed armchair generals have done in recent days. Instead, I will share reflections from my experiences as a soldier in Afghanistan.
My unit provided security in remote parts of eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. For a year, we conducted daily patrols and worked closely with the Afghan military, Afghan national police and border police forces, often conducting joint missions and routine visits to border patrol stations and remote villages. We trusted our fellow soldiers in uniform and relied heavily on our interpreters, who helped us interact and regularly communicate with local people. We even picked up some of their language. Let’s just say their English was much better than our Pashto.
The majority of Afghans we met were good people. They admired America and wanted the same things – a good quality of life, safety, security, opportunity and a brighter future for their children. The hints of optimism I witnessed, mostly among children, were overshadowed by the cold grip of danger that existed around every corner.
Most of these people lived in constant fear of retribution. Lending support or aid to U.S.-Allied Afghan forces not only jeopardized the lives of those who helped, but their families, too. While the U.S. presence may have suppressed Taliban visibility, the Taliban were still living, walking and watching. And the locals knew it.
These dynamics, combined with the country’s remoteness and lack of infrastructure, make it difficult to illustrate what an overall “mission accomplished” might look like. While my heart is with the Afghan people, I must acknowledge the relief in ending further U.S. occupation in Afghanistan. After 20 years, we are bringing our military, civilian contractors, sons, daughters, wives, husbands and parents home.
To our military, veterans, their families and Gold Star families: your service matters. It matters to all of us. You made a difference. You provided hope. You showed others the meaning of freedom and patriotism. You kept people safe. You protected lives. You made things better. Thank you will never be enough.
Josh Kramer, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of NDAREC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.