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I Served In Afghanistan. Don’t Let ‘Forever Wars’ Define Its Legacy

Afghanistan Forever Wars
Marines and coalition forces with Regional Command (Southwest) hold a flag raising ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 11, 2013. The ceremony was held to commemorate Veteran's Day.

As an Army Officer, I am on the downward slope of a military career. Currently, I am attending the National Defense University, enhancing my professional development, studying planning and executing joint operations. As I sit in class and study subjects like; joint doctrine, national strategy, policy, and objectives, I cannot help but find the cynic in me come out. The U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan. The headlines display, the Taliban controls the country, we as a class discuss what that means in terms of strategy.

Did we fail?

Are we the product of repeating history?

Another grave in the graveyard of empires?

Was this a Forever War that needed to end?

Throughout the mix of three-legged stool analogies and ends, ways, means discussions, there is a feeling of defeat for our actions in Afghanistan. We learn to examine strategic decisions through the lens of blood and treasure, decisions that senior leaders need to consider when committing forces to a conflict.

Blood and treasure, those words echo in my head.

The Forever Wars–a term coining the insurgency fights the U.S. military engaged in over the last two decades. October 7, 2001, was the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Over 20 years, 2,312 American servicemembers, three generations of patriots, would spill their blood, with countless others wounded. As a veteran, the term is numb to me, and it almost sounds like a Star Wars movie, not a War, not the war I fought in. The longest conflict in American history.

I remember back to my first deployment, the excitement, fear, pride, and in the end, the belief that my actions were part of something larger. I couldn’t pick Afghanistan on a map. I didn’t understand the culture, history, people, struggle, and why we were going. As I sat on the plane, I didn’t think about blood or treasure. I did think about our service and that it had to mean something. I remember how that innocence faded with time. I did see the blood, blood that spilled time and time again. But each time it spilled, I told myself it was for something. We served because we could, we stood up in the face of tyranny, we fought to free the oppressed, and we were willing to sacrifice for a more significant cause.

Blood and Treasure.

And when we came back, we comforted ourselves in the ones we lost in the fact that they sacrificed their lives for something larger than ourselves.

And we prepared to go back.

I remember the funerals, memorials, and speeches. I remember defending why we needed to go back about what I had seen and experienced to my friends and family. The friends I had made there, the beauty of the culture, the rich history, the wonder of the landscape, the endless night skies, and seas of sand that stretched as far as you could see. Most importantly, I believed in our service and the cause. I took pride in being the 1%.

I look at the news headlines now; Afghanistan falls to the Taliban. I think about those cities. I can close my eyes and see them now. I think about those people, how they must worry and fear for their future, and explain it to their families and children.

Blood and Treasure.

The end of the Forever Wars.

I suggest we do not quickly close the chapter on the forever wars and move onto the next one. This shouldn’t be a repeat of Vietnam, where we hide in shame and defeat.

We shouldn’t forget the countless service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It shouldn’t be an experience we sum up with a catchphrase. We should learn and grow from our wounds and make those sacrifices count to improve our force.

Blood and Treasure.

I do not make policy; I am a soldier. We question all the time what it means to be a professional. We are military professionals and need to ensure that our history, sacrifices, and losses are remembered and respected. For some, it may be blood and treasure, but for us, it is our service, duty, and honor to uphold the legacy always to be ready to answer the nation’s call. I, for one, will not forget.  We all volunteered to protect and defend America, our brothers, and sisters, and we did it with honor.

Major Justin Woodward is a Special Forces officer, veteran of small wars, and a student of Unconventional Warfare. He has served in the Army in various roles for 13 years. The above work reflects the author’s opinion and does not represent the official policy or position of the Special Forces Regiment, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army.

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Major Justin Woodward is a Special Forces officer, a veteran of small wars, and a student of Unconventional Warfare. He has served in the Army in various roles for 13 years.