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Student veterans reflect on Afghanistan War following America’s recent withdrawal

Student veterans reflect on Afghanistan War following America’s recent withdrawal

Student veterans reflect on Afghanistan War following America’s recent withdrawal
September 10
15:00 2021

The U.S. has officially ended its participation in the Afghanistan War, a conflict that killed 2,400 American service members and 50,000 Afghan civilians, according to the New York Times.

The Department of Defense said more than 800,000 military personnel have served in the country since combat began in 2001. This includes biology senior Enrich Ellis, a former Marine Corps Special Forces sergeant who served from 2005 to 2013.

For Ellis, his decision to enlist at the age of 18 was informed by a military family and the 9/11 attacks, which occurred when he was 13. 

“There was this huge propaganda push,” Ellis said. “9/11 really changed the way people in America view the Middle East, themselves and the world around them. […] Everyone had some bloodlust for the place.”

Ellis was deployed to Afghanistan for four months before losing his right foot to a roadside bomb. The rest of his career was spent in recovery. 

In the eight years since he left Afghanistan, Ellis has taken issue with how U.S. leaders handed the war, calling it “immoral.” 

“[The Bush administration] engaged in a 20-year-long, incredibly long and costly conflict that did nothing but harm the United States,” Ellis said. “The next few administrations kept it up for no logical reason.” 

When the U.S. completed its withdrawal, Ellis reflected on the human cost of the war. 

“Everyone involved in this has lost loved ones, best friends or limbs,” Ellis said. 

Another veteran who served in Afghanistan is engineering freshman Kenneth Robertson, a former staff sergeant who served in the Army from 2014 to 2020. 

“Thinking back, there’s a lot of beauty there,” Robertson said. “There’s nothing wrong with the people that live there. You have a lot of good and bad people in the U.S., same over there.”

Robertson was deployed twice to Afghanistan for a total of 22 months. One of the bonds he made with Afghan nationals was with a man named Amir, who served as a translator for American forces.

“We learned [Amir] went to Germany to become an electrical engineer and he decided to come back as a translator so he could fight the people he didn’t want controlling his country,” Robertson said. 

Robertson does not know where Amir is today nor if the translator was able to evacuate.

Robertson also said he and his squad did not understand the goals they were given by their superiors.

“We would just do whatever the hell we were told,” Robertson said. “The missions would be cannon fodder. I just don’t know what the mission was at that point, honestly. It seems we were there pretty aimlessly.” 

Kinesiology senior Kevin Byrne was also deployed to Afghanistan multiple times. He was often on the front line from 2007 to 2014. 

“I had the worst job — truck driver,” Byrne said. “We were pretty much the bomb finders, so […] we saw it all, the world’s worst.” 

With the withdrawal official and 20 years of combat over, Byrne said he and other veterans question the overall aim of the war. 

“I’ve had people die over there — I know they didn’t die for nothing, but you question why we even went there when we’ve pulled out and the Taliban is taking over,” Byrne said. 

Byrne said a lot of veterans feel weird in the wake of the withdrawal. For him, it is “mixed feelings,” while he thinks American forces “shouldn’t have been there to begin with.” 

For Robertson, he found the assistance of Student Veterans Service valuable in his transition back to civilian life.

“I’m in there almost every day,” Robertson said. “I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t been great to talk to.” 

Student Veteran Services manages most of the university programs available to veterans. These include psychological counseling, financial assistance and graduate school support.

In regards to returning veterans, Robertson said he hopes civilians would be patient with them. 

“They’re people,” Robertson said. “They may have seen combat [and] they have seen things they don’t want to, but they’re still people. Don’t treat them like they’re broken.”

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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