In March, like everyone else operating in the mil-writer space, I decided it was my duty to God and to country to pen a piece on the maddening and tragic Kandahar massacre. So I did, and thanks to the fine people at Boston Review, it was published. Rather than attempt to explain the psychology of Staff Sergeant Bales, or pontificate on how this will affect the already vast military-civilian divide, I aimed to discuss how the events in Panjwai will impact the American rearguard still fighting in Afghanistan, and the ones still waiting their turn to deploy.
A contact currently serving as a company commander in Afghanistan emailed me about the immediate aftermath of the shootings for him and his men. As originally quoted in the previous mentioned Boston Review piece, he wrote “We went around apologizing to the tribal leaders, reminding them this was not reflective of America’s military, reminding them of our dedication to their people and their villages … One said, ‘The Russians told us the same things.’ I didn’t really know how to respond to that.”
The war rages on, despite public sentiment, despite a withdrawal plan, despite the best laid plans of mice, men and marionettes.
Another war rages on back in the States, one with an even hazier ending than Afghanistan. News of the homefront battle for new veterans’ care, specifically the unemployment and suicide crises, has penetrated the halls of Congress – and they’re trying to head it off and trying to figure out the most effective ways to do so.
That is part of the reason I spent last week on Capitol Hill with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. With dozens of vets of Iraq and Afghanistan serving as advocates for their brothers- and sisters-in arms, over 140 meetings with legislators and senior staffers were conducted in a whirlwind week of personal stories, policy wrangling and complex, nuanced problem-solving discussions.
From CIA Director David Petraeus dropping by a membership panel on Monday to IAVA Member Veteran Dave Smith bravely sharing his experiences with Posttraumatic Stress on MSNBC to a once-in-a-lifetime discussion at the White House with senior staffers, the positives of the new veterans’ community was everywhere – but still, Kandahar lingered over everything like a dark cloud, be it stated or unstated. The ugly truth is that Staff Sergeant Bales is now a face of these wars, whether he deserves to be or not. That’s not going to change just because it should.
I’m an ironic guy, one more prone to a smirk and a skeptical eye than earnestness or populist drumbeating. But Storm the Hill was greatly motivating and inspiring, without caveat, overstatement or modifier. When I wasn’t tying words into a box (as per my job description), I walked the halls of the Capitol from meeting to meeting with other young veterans, explaining the finer points of curbing vet unemployment and going over ideas of how best to educate vets on their GI Bill benefits and options. And Staff Sergeant Bales had nothing to do with any of it, even if his alleged actions shadowed our every step.
So be it. Hopefully, both time and action will ensure such isn’t always the case.