Thousands of Americans are not spending this holiday with their friends and families because they did not return from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two decades. Today we honor and remember them, along with the hundreds of thousands of Americans killed in battle since the founding of the nation.
I firmly believe that one of the ways to honor those lost in combat is to reflect on why they were deployed and learn lessons that could lead to better decisions about future deployments. Civilian and military leaders made a lot of poor decisions after 9/11 that resulted in the deaths of thousands of service members. There has been no accountability for those decisions.
I don't want to get all high and mighty on this day, but it does frustrate the hell out of me that the architects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not worthy of the sacrifices made by those they sent into battle. I spent a lot of time downrange with service members who would stop at nothing to accomplish their mission even as they often expressed uncertainty or skepticism about their mission and what it was meant to achieve.
I will never forget a conversation I had with a sergeant at a small base in Paktiya province in Afghanistan in 2009. He was on his third deployment and said that during his first two, he felt like he knew why he was there and what the fight was about. But, he said that on this deployment, he no longer understood what the point was and felt conflicted about how to talk to the younger soldiers. He said the people on their first deployment were eager to serve and experience combat, but he couldn't articulate to them what they were fighting for.
That conversation stuck with me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was how it demonstrated the loyalty and commitment of service members to soldier on when they weren't really sure why they were there and whether the mission could be accomplished.
And now, as the last American troops in Afghanistan are packing up and heading home, there are still a lot of outstanding questions about what was and wasn't accomplished. As I wrote last week, the Biden administration still hasn't answered a number of important questions about what is being left behind and whether American interests are being served.
As we remember those who served and did not return, we should also honor their memory by keeping pressure on America's leaders to learn and internalize the lessons of the last 20 years and make better decisions about future military deployments.