Oh, Happy (X) Day

My birthday is rapidly approaching, so is the Marine Corps birthday and veteran’s day. This used to be kind of fun. Now it feels very depressing.

“Happy birthday!

Happy veteran’s day!

Happy Marine Corps birthday!

Thank you for your service!”

When I observe most people saying this I feel they do so from a self-serving place. they want to feel good about themselves for having wished me some positivity.

Knowing people who have died in a war that we lost is painful. Knowing that there is a gulf between me and people who have not experienced that is painful but it’s not nearly so painful as knowing that there are thousands, hundreds of thousands that are terrified for their lives because of the actions of the US government in which I participated. And that we’re not helping them.

Images of me with different Afghan Allies and interpreters. All are different, all are still at risk or have close family that are.

On my second deployment two of our interpreters were particularly instrumental to the level of success my team had.

One of them, Nemat, was home visiting his family when Kabul fell in august. His family helped him to escape, disguising himself and concealing his documents and passing through three Taliban checkpoints  then pushing him through the press of a crowd where he waved his blue passport at the American Marines who pulled him up and over the wire. He is home safe. What about his family that helped him to escape? He served with U.S. Army Special Forces, he served with U.S. Marine Corps infantry, he served with my advisor team. His interpretation skills helped the Afghan army respond to a mass casualty bombing of his fellow Afghan citizens by the Taliban, he was one of the most tactically apt of our interpreters and best able to explain tactics to the senior Afghan officers we worked with. He is applying to join his local Police Department. And he wants his mother and father and brothers and sisters to be safe so they aren’t targeted for the work he did for us, or for their efforts in helping him escape in August.

Another of our interpreters, Safi, likewise critical to our success, expert at smoothing ruffled feathers needed in high stakes senior leader negotiations, is currently working as an interpreter for USCIS helping to process an Afghan evacuees at Fort McCoy Wisconsin. His wife gave birth to his baby daughter two weeks ago. Her father is an American citizen and presumptively she is too. When I ask people what we should do they say: no problem just have her American citizen father with his blue passport show up at the consulate or embassy with her and her birth certificate and we can get her an American passport! What embassy? What consulate? And where should his wife, who gave birth to their daughter go to have the interview on which her family reunification visa is currently pending? He did everything we asked him to do as a country. He served with us in areas of great risk. He was shot at, blown up in an armored vehicle, he saw the bodies of his fellow Afghan citizens stacked up by Afghan soldiers responding to that mass casualty. He provided interpretation for General Milley now commander of the Joint Chiefs of staff when he came to check the coordination center we advised. Safi’s family fortunately deleted the photos of that event before the Taliban came and seized the computers from his home. He completed the special immigrant visa process and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He went back to Afghanistan to provide interpretation to train drone pilots who subsequently surrendered to the Taliban and know his face and where he used to live. he filled out all of the correct paperwork to request to have his wife join him in the United states, he even hired an attorney to make sure that it was all correct. And now that she has given birth to a two week old little girl who should be an American citizen. And still they wait for us to do something.

What can we tell her?

What can we tell him?

What can I tell him?

There are others too. I often wake up to emails to my personal inbox from an interpreter that served briefly with us that has none of these advantages and has stuck with his family in Afghanistan and I don’t know what to tell him. I have heard directly from the state department that humanitarian parole reviews will only be completed for people who escape on their own from Afghanistan and there is nothing that can be done for those that are there. And since he did not serve long enough to be able to apply for a special immigrant visa that is not a path, not that it would be speedy enough to help him or his family.

There is one interpreter  who was very helpful we’ve all lost touch with including the first two with whom I’m in regular contact. And then there’s the others whose names I don’t even remember and those from the first deployment.

It’s sad that I know young men whose lives were cut short. Men who were my fellow Marines. My brothers. A man with whom I dodged machine gun rounds mere feet above our heads and laughed dozens of days before his body was ripped apart by homemade explosives. Whose bronze star medal with a V for valor for saving the life of our Sergeant Major was expedited so that it could be presented along with his Purple Heart posthumously to his family.

It’s sad that I know a Lieutenant Colonel who was killed by the Afghans that we were sent there to mentor. That I know his wife and his children had to continue their lives in his absence. That I know that the attacker from that attack lived despite his wounds from my Marines’ response to it. That he was released from prison not by the Taliban as the country fell but by the government of Afghanistan is a part of the negotiations with the Taliban to try to mollify them. He was never a member of the Taliban they just admired his work killing American Marines. So he was released even before the country fell.

These are sad things. And I carry pieces of them with me as a veteran, as a Marine. But none of them are nearly as sad as the stories of the Afghan people that tried to help us in our war. That we abandoned. Whose families are now in jeopardy. Who tell me not to worry when I tell them “I’m sorry” in a text message.

 I’m sorry that I can’t help their families yet and I will keep trying.

This is the veteran experience.

Happy birthday.

happy veteran’s day.

Thank you for your service.

…And on the other hand. I AM grateful.


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