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Valley veterans and Afghans reflect and march after 20-year war ends

Afghan rally
Posted at 9:51 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 16:29:28-04

PHOENIX — The United States officially declared an end to the War in Afghanistan on Monday.

As the saying goes, "hindsight is 20-20," and the years to come will provide more clarity about the 20-year war. Already though, Valley veterans and Afghans are reflecting.

"As we were drawing down, we were already losing that stableness," said Aaron Westman, a former Army Green Beret who now runs 22 Home Inspect.

"I wish it would have [lasted] longer, and that's definitely disappointing. Obviously, there wasn't well-thought-out plans... especially when you lose 13 service members in one spot."

"I think our failure was we let the mission creep, [and] expanded the mission beyond the scope that we originally had, without a really firm understanding of Afghan culture," said Dr. Carl Forkner, a retired US Navy Commander.

Dr. Forkner now works as an advocate for fellow veterans seeking care and treatment. He was also on the USS Carl Vinson when the ship launched the first wave of fighter jets to Afghanistan in October of 2001.

"I think our impact is going to be that we showed the Afghan people ways to progress, especially with regards to equality and women," said Dr. Forkner. "But I fear that the Taliban will be reticent about embracing that part of culture and will devolve back into... placing women again in a second-class existence."

It is something many veterans are worried about, the treatment of women, children, and allies who served alongside the U.S. for years.

"It has been very detrimental emotionally because I was stationed over in Kabul for seven months," said Jessica Niebel.

Niebel is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan and has spent recent weeks trying to help evacuate Afghan interpreters.

"It's just been very difficult. And the way that we pulled out as fast as we did, should have never happened like it did," said Niebel "I honestly hope that we will find a way to help the refugees out over in Kabul and any other city."

On Monday, dozens of Afghans, now living in the Valley, marched past the Arizona Vietnam Memorial to the state capitol. They chanted about how the Taliban is not their government.

Afghan rally

Some children in attendance were too young to comprehend the ramifications of the Taliban takeover.

Others though are old enough to know exactly the terror that could be on the way.

Afghanistan Rally, Aug. 30, 2021

"Our youth deserve an education. Our boys deserve a future. Our women deserve freedom," said one young woman, who addressed the crowd and asked that we not publish her name.

Many of the Afghans held signs expressing their feelings of betrayal based on the chaotic U.S. withdrawal.

"There were promises made to my people. We helped you guys. Now you guys help us," said the woman. "You hear your cousins crying. You hear your grandma begging you to look for some way to get her out. it's not fair."

It is unclear what Afghanistan will look like in 20 years.

Many Americans are still waiting on more time, and hindsight, to determine what will define the prolonged war.

For most Afghans it is already clear.

ABC15 asked the young Afghan woman: "What will define the past 20 years of war?" "Loss. The legacy of lost U.S. life. The loss of Afghan lives. The loss of our future, our freedom. What did we gain?"

The Department of Defense shared the following mental health resources for service members and their families:

The Real Warriors Campaign aims to break down the stigma associated with mental health care and encourages service members to reach out: www.health.mil/RealWarriors

The Psychological Health Resource Center is available 24/7 for service members, veterans, and family members with questions about psychological health topics: www.health.mil/PHRC or call 866-966-1020 for assistance.

The inTransition Program is a free confidential program that provides specialized coaching and assistance for service members who need access to mental health care. Visit their website or call 800-424-7877

The Military Crisis Line, text messaging service, and online chat provide free VA support for all Service members. Call: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. Text: 838255 or to chat: www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat

TRICARE offers mental health care to all its enrollees: www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/Mental/GettingMHCare.

Military Medical Treatment Facilities often provide mental health services, including integrated behavioral health clinics. Find out more by visiting www.tricare.mil/Military-Hospitals-and-Clinics.

Military OneSource can provide access to confidential Military Family Life Counselors in your community: www.militaryonesource.mil or by calling 1-800-342-9647.