When Sadness Turns to Anger

By: - September 14, 2021

This week, September 11th came rushing back to consume my thoughts.  I reflected on the events of the past few weeks and just felt empty.  After spending years in Afghanistan myself, after seeing the good that we had actually done, seeing the people start to enjoy some of the freedoms and opportunities we promised, then seeing those same people that we promised so much abandoned, just ripped the heart out of me.

As I look at the picture on the wall of my office, the one with my Afghan security team around me at FOB Sharana, I wonder what happened to those guys.  Did the Taliban recruit them so they could survive? Were they hunted down and executed for working with us?  Maybe they just faded away into the landscape hoping for the best.  I have no way of knowing but I hope they are okay.  They kept me safe in very dangerous situations. Unlike most Americans in Afghanistan, I was outside the wire almost every day. My job was to look for explosives and IEDs with a K9. It was extremely dangerous work, but it would have been so much worse without them.  They most likely gave me the opportunity to write this from my comfortable office back here in the U.S.  It is a lot to contemplate.

Watching the debacle unfold on television and the idiocy of the operation plan, I just could not get past the fact that someone actually thought this was a good idea.  Even if the military was just following orders, after all the President is the Commander in Chief, how those orders or objectives were carried out is astonishing to me.  What makes it worse is that everyone from the President to the commander on the ground say that this was a successful operation.  What bull sh*t!  This was a failure plain and simple.

So here we are, September 11th. Twenty years later, I spent the weekend watching a special on the towers and the stories of those that survived as well as stories of those who didn’t.  One particular story was on a former marine (if there is such a thing) who responded to help after the collapse.  He was not a fireman, not a police officer, nothing more than an American who saw his country attacked and had to help.  He and another ex-marine who had also heard that internal call to help teamed up and climbed on the pile of rubble and spent hours looking for survivors. Lo and behold, they found not one, but two Port Authority officers buried alive under the rubble.  As they worked to free the men there was a time when it was very questionable if they were going to get them out.  Fire from inside the pile was burning closer and the heat was almost unbearable.

Forty-three-year-old David W. Karnes worked as an accountant for Deloitte in Connecticut. He had spent twenty years in the Marines and left the service three years earlier.  Twenty-seven-year -old former sergeant, Jason Thomas had only been out of the Marines a few months. When he heard of the attack, just like Karnes, he donned his old uniform, which was still in the trunk of his car, and headed for the World Trade Center site. “Someone needed help. It didn’t matter who,” he told reporters years later. “I didn’t even have a plan. But, I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was, ‘My city is in need.’

At some point the two Marines made a decision.  They would stay until these men were rescued or die with them in the attempt.  Jason said, “We are Marines, and we don’t leave anyone behind.”

Oh, how those words hit me as I watched.  That is exactly what we had done. We left Americans, allies, and partners behind. We broke our sacred trust and an ethos all service members have had for as long as we have been a nation. “We don’t leave anyone behind.”

The sadness of it all was overwhelming.  I wiped the tears from my face as I watched knowing, reliving, seeing it all again how our country had been attacked.  Then the anger at our leaders for abandoning our mission in an utter retreat from Afghanistan welled up inside me.

Why?  Was it for a political photo op?  Was it so a speech could be given on this twentieth anniversary of the attack on our country that literally changed the world?  Maybe it was just piss poor planning?  Regardless of what or why, the way our leaders orchestrated the final withdraw from Kabul was a disaster and a stab in the back to those that fought and died, those that believe in their hearts that we live by a code. To those that truly believe we do not leave anyone behind.

There were two speeches given by Presidents this week on the 9/11 attack.  I watched them both.  One was pre-recorded.  I have heard from Joe Biden before. His mix of platitudes and slogans.  He spoke of unity and the soul of America.  He spoke of rescue, recover, and rebuild. Moreover, he said that we will hunt you down, and we will make you pay.  These are all things he has said before. Some of the lines were akin to things he said during his election campaign.  Some we heard when he tried to justify the Afghanistan debacle.  Some was just false bravado. It rang forced and tone deaf to me.

The other was given live.  President George W. Bush was in Shanksville, PA.  He addressed the audience.  He spoke from the heart and sounded like a President, not an apologist.  He spoke of how people pulled together at the time of the attacks.  He spoke of the way America was and what it should be. He spoke clearly of how different our country is today. And he spoke to a group that the current President failed to really acknowledge. He spoke to the service members of our nation. He said: “Let me speak directly to veterans and people in uniform. The cause you pursued at the call of duty is the noblest America has to offer. You have shielded your fellow citizens from danger. You have defended the beliefs of your country and advanced the rights of the downtrodden. You have been the face of hope and mercy in dark places. You have been a force for good in the world. Nothing that has followed — nothing — can tarnish your honor or diminish your accomplishments. To you, and to the honored dead, our country is forever grateful.

To me it was moving and genuine.  The Vice President attended that speech but like her boss, chose to talk about unity. It was a talking point for their administration. What a disgrace, what damage, what a prime example of why we as a nation have stumbled.

The current administration is, in my opinion, inept.   In fact, it is more than that. It is damaging. It is divisive. It governs for strictly partisan sake with no regard for the collateral damage caused along the way.

Yes, I am saddened by all that has happened.  I am heartbroken for those that gave everything to protect us. And I am angry that the sacrifice of all those who believed in the American ethos has been tarnished by this administration.

That ethos is not just something service members live and die for.  Police, firemen and all first responders live by the same code. We never leave anyone behind.

Too bad the President doesn’t understand that.