By ART CHANCE
We pulled our children out of the “A Clockwork Orange” youth culture in Juneau in 2005.
The younger son was a vexing problem; he had an unerring sense for the shallow end of the Juneau gene pool. He didn’t need to be led into temptation, for he would find it himself. The only time I ever used my position for something personal was to get him immediate admission to the Military Youth Academy, and we put him on the next plane.
Military Youth Academy straightened him up and got him a high school diploma, which he would never have gotten at Juneau-Douglas High School. We wouldn’t let him come home to Juneau and he joined the Army.
We and his older brother flew to Ft. Benning, Georgia for his graduation from basic training; he was fit and proud. The military trained him to serve a fire-and-forget, anti-tank and anti-bunker missile system, and then sent him to Hohenfels, Germany.
The Army is a federal agency, so after spending all that money on training him to operate a sophisticated weapon system, they put a squad automatic weapon in his hands and made him an infantryman. He spent several months with the Opposition Force, OPFOR, in Hohenfels training up National Guard and recently mobilized units to deal with Soviet Bloc tactics used in the Middle East.
It was a good life. Then they got the orders to go to Afghanistan, or “down range” in military parlance.
He went to Fire Base Lane, somewhere south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Fire Base Lane was a lot like one of those U.S. Cavalry forts in Indian Country that you see in old Western movies and almost as primitive.
He’d been there several months before and, in a casual remark in a phone call, he asked me if I could get him a sleeping pad or air mattress because he was tired of sleeping on a sheet of plywood.
They came under frequent attack and the sound of the guns of an A-10 or AC-130 must have been the voices of angels for them. When they weren’t defending the base they did just like the 19th Century cavalry and saddled up their HumVees and went out into places their adversary didn’t want them to be. I don’t think his unit took a casualty to a pitched gunfire battle, but they took several to IEDs and mortar fire. He tells of his “pet rock;” a rock on a mountainside in Southern Afghanistan that saved his life from a mortar round. He still has hard memories of buddies who died.
In 2007 he was coming up for re-enlistment and I discouraged him. My faith in military leadership had faltered and ultimately failed during his time in Afghanistan. He served under a revolving door of lieutenants and captains who stayed in a combat zone just long enough to put it on their resume. The NCOs were almost as transient. The grizzled old veterans in his unit were 19 and 20 year old specialists.
The way the presidential election was going, I knew that with a Democrat in office, he’d be on patrol in some sandbox with no magazine in his weapon or a judge advocate general on his shoulder telling him whether he could load his weapon or not.
He got out and came home in one piece; sort of. Bad dreams and bad thoughts were a part of his life, as were drugs and alcohol and a PTSD diagnosis. He’s OK, he’ll make it, but it left a mark.
It left a mark on us too. There is an 11 hour time difference between Alaska and Afghanistan and the telephone service was usually pretty good. We spent a year cringing whenever the phone rang at an unexpected time. We lived in abject fear of the dark sedan pulling into the driveway.
Unless you’ve known those feelings, you can’t imagine the rage we who have known them feel as we see the ignominious defeat of the U.S. in Afghanistan today. Almost 2,500 families got that dread knock at the door. Over 20,000 Americans were wounded, many gravely.
As many as half of the Afghanistan veterans have PTSD or PTSD symptoms, many have anger management issues, and the suicide rate is far higher than in the general population.
Twenty years and all of that sacrifice were thrown away to faculty lounge fantasies and the whim of a senile old fool who brazenly lied and deflected about the events of the last several days.
Now the killing fields are open. The Taliban will hunt down and kill everyone who worked with the US and its allies. Get ready for the pictures of stoning, beheading, and throwing people off buildings. Who knows what fate awaits the women who did the unpardonable and went to school, wore western clothes, and worked outside the home.
There are already stories of Taliban fighters rounding up women and girls and forcing them into marriage with Taliban members. The only way in and out of Afghanistan is the Kabul airport, and we have nearly lost control of it. It has been overrun by civilians seeking to flee the country and we’ll see if the U.S. is willing to shoot its way in to clear the runways so we can continue to evacuate our citizens and those who allied with us.
I’m not optimistic. Thank God I have a Blue Star, rather than a Gold Star to show for my son’s time there.
Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon.