Dr. McKinion, My EdD dissertation supervisor, once explained the dissertation process as entering a room where a group of people sit around a table while others line the walls or stand at the door. Your job in the dissertation, he contended, is to explain what those at the table are saying and then sit down and join the conversation.
As a military service member, we always preface every request to our superiors with “respectfully request” and correspondence with “very respectfully.” With that, I respectfully request that those who have not ever served in our military to take a seat around the edges of the room. The conversation about Afghanistan for most former military members is not political. It’s personal.
It’s Not Political, It’s Personal
November 4, 1996, I swore to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to faithfully discharge the duties of the office. In fact, all who serve swear the same — including my mother, grandfather, husband, father-in-law, and grandfather-in-law. Until you take that oath, you won’t fully understand the depth and commitment those words mean. Joining the military is not like a beauty pageant or a scholarship opportunity (in the words of Miss Congeniality). It is a commitment to serve your country and die defending her if necessary. I was on duty in the United States Navy on September 11, and I remember the adrenaline running through my veins as our commanding officer addressed us and prepared us to possibly deploy.
When asked about my opinions of Afghanistan, I can only speak to my experience and beliefs as a former service member. In the military, we may have differing political ideologies. But we become siblings when we put the uniform on, and we fight together for the cause.
So, here are a few ways you can serve veterans in light of the tragedy in Afghanistan.
1. Be slow to speak.
With the horrors of the last few weeks, many are quick to assign blame because we can’t make sense emotionally or politically how withdrawal could have gone so wrong, so fast. And that’s understandable. But the fall of the Afghan government and subsequent loss of life is a complex problem.
And just as complex as this decision was, equally complex is the toll the war took on people, communities, and nations. So, let us be slow to speak and eager to respond in grace. Our hot takes and rash opinions may feel good in the moment, but they dishonor the lives of people who faithfully served this country and sacrificed everything to keep us safe. And most people are far less qualified to speak to this situation than military service people.
2. Don’t forget those who served.
The reality of ongoing conflict and collective loss weigh on every service person. Let us lament and grieve for those struggling with the consequences of this war — families, wives, husbands, daughters, sons. Our veterans still suffer from society’s abandonment. PTSD, suicide, and homelessness are ongoing realities for the military community.
So instead of merely trying to answer the questions about why this happened and who’s to blame, let us focus on the needs of the community and how we as Christians can begin to heal the harms.
Operation “Pineapple Express” is a perfect example of a group of invested community members, coming together outside political boundaries to rescue the most vulnerable. Composed of former special operations service members, aid workers, intelligence officers and others, this group established an “underground railroad” type mission to shepherd close to 600 Afghan people to safety who served our military and government over the last 20 years. They completed this mission without the blessing, support, or possible reward from our government. They risked their lives once again, to save others. Let this be our example of charity and love.
3. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.
First, you can take practical steps to serve veterans. We should serve our military community here on campus, in Wake Forest, and beyond. As of January 2020, almost 800 veterans experience homelessness in North Carolina. 19% of returning NC veterans are dealing with a traumatic brain injury; 12-25% experience PTSD; and 20-45% deal with substance abuse. Volunteer with organizations serving veterans in the area such as The Joel Fund, Helping Heroes, Military Missions in Action, or Veterans Residential Services of Wilson.
Second, you can extend mercy to veterans. Regardless of one’s political convictions, grace and mercy should guide our speech and our action. Hasty, bloviating opinions on the catastrophes of this war, especially where there has been little to no personal investment, hide one’s light under a bushel rather than reveal the love of Christ. Lament and grieve. Weep with those who are weeping. Comfort those who are hurting. Extend mercy to them.
Third, walk humbly in prayer. Pray for peace, for humility, for our leaders to have wisdom, for veterans, and for forgiveness and mercy.
Voices from the Table
If you are not sure what to say or how to feel, rest in that uncertainty and surround yourself with voices from the table. We can share our stories with you. We can invite you into our spaces of pain and loss. We hope you gain some sense of peace by listening and learning. And as your family in Christ, we welcome you to love and sacrifice in some small way alongside us.
A US Navy Veteran