‘Afghan vets have all lost something’: Local veteran reflects on service time as Taliban regains control of Afghanistan

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FISHERS, Ind. — The Fishers Health Department posts on social media every Monday, highlighting various mental health needs weekly. This #MentalHealthMonday was different though, drawing attention to veterans of The War in Afghanistan. 

The world is watching as the Taliban regains control of Afghanistan days after the United States began withdrawing troops. The longest war in U.S. history, spanning two decades, has effectively ended in what some call chaos. 

It’s left a sour taste in the hearts and minds in veterans and their families who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service overseas. It’s left some vets, like assistant professor at Indiana University Andrew Bell, to question what comes next.

“It’s a really tragic bookend to 20 years of sacrifice since 9/11, and I fear that our time there will be remembered by this withdrawal,” Bell said. “I think popular support had fallen from the U.S. years ago for the war. I think it’s pretty much been off the radar of most people in the United States for at least about a decade or so. [But] certainly not the members of the military that were deploying there and putting themselves at risk.”

The withdrawal, now several years in the making, has veterans like Bell, who served in the U.S. Air Force for two years in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009, wondering if anything else could have been done to preserve what they worked so hard to build. 

“The manner at which the execution happened of the withdrawal is really quite unconscionable,” Bell said. “It was almost as if the whole world woke up and all the sudden remembered that Afghanistan was still a war when we saw basically city after city fall immediately. And then we’ve seen these scenes of Afghans clinging to sides of U.S. cargo planes trying to get out so desperately.”

Those images and videos of Afghans clamoring the planes he once worked with, aren’t easy to take.

“I’m familiar with the C17’s and seeing the images of the people clinging to the C17’s it’s quite striking,” Bell said. “It’s a juxtaposition of American air power but also the tragedy that’s unfolding on the ground.”

A tragedy on the ground both abroad and unfolding here at home.

“It’s hard to know how to help Afghanistan move forward. We aren’t gonna do it from Fishers, but what we can do is make sure that anyone who has been touched by this situation and who is struggling… is aware of the resources for help,” Fishers Health Department Public Health Director Monica Heltz said. “If you’re struggling… just talk to someone. Whether it be a faith councilor that you have or a mental health provider that you have… just talk to someone.”

Vets say it’s hard to know exactly where to go from here, but Bell says looking ahead to tomorrow and reflecting on the positive changes they made yesterday are two good places to start.

“It’s not for naught. There wasn’t a complete loss of everything that we worked so hard for. And we planted the seeds for hope for Afghanistan’s future,” Bell said. “This story will go on.”

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