As the last American C- cargo plane took off from Afghanistan this week, military members and veterans watched with conflicting feelings on a war that has consumed many of their careers.
Tuesday marked the end of the United States’ longest war and its nearly -year presence in Afghanistan.
More than, Afghans, Americans, and allies were airlifted out of the country ahead of the Aug. deadline set by President Joe Biden.
In the last three to four weeks, Afghan refugees have resettled on the Peninsula, according to Jay Brown, CEO of Catholic Commonwealth Charities, and more than refugees have resettled in the state.
That number is expected to increase over the next few weeks, he said as more refugees are processed and travel to their final destination in the U.S.
For many U.S. military active duty members and veterans, the past couple of weeks have been spent by the television watching the news coming out of Afghanistan.
“They are not numbers in a report or captions at the bottom of a picture; you get to know them and their families, and their goals and their dreams,” said U.S. Army Col. Eric Smith, and a Williamsburg resident, about the U.S.’s Afghan partners.
Smith, now stationed at Fort Eustis in Newport News, served two tours in Afghanistan.
Smith said that the Afghanistan they left was a much different version from the one they entered in, with unparalleled access to the global community and an entire generation of Afghan children who have grown up attending school.
Shane LaVoie, , an Air Force veteran and Williamsburg resident, said that the decision to leave was ultimately the right decision, but the way that it was conducted was embarrassing and avoidable. In his view, many tactical and operational mistakes were made that led to the situation happening now in Afghanistan in the U.S.’s wake.
LaVoie, who spent one deployment in Afghanistan as an air adviser who trained and advised Afghans to help build their own professional air force, said the challenges were baked in from the beginning because of language barriers, Afghan partners willingness to learn and more.
“Twenty years ago we went in to destroy the Taliban to be right back in years after who knows how much money, all the dead, all the blood, all the time. Personally, missed time, all the birthdays I missed, all the stuff I went through … it’s so defeating,” said LaVoie.
Jarrod Morris, , an Army veteran and Williamsburg resident, said it was difficult to hear the reports coming out of Kabul. Throughout the past week, Morris said he saw on Twitter that one of his friends, who worked as an advisor to the Afghan National Army, was working to help his former Afghan translator and family evacuate.
In the next few days, Morris was able to communicate and coordinate with his friend and forces on the ground in Kabul who could help, gathering official documents, location coordinates, and more through encrypted text to relay.
By the end of the third night, Morris said the translator and his family were picked up from a safe location in Kabul and transported to the airport, just hours before the ISIS suicide attack that resulted in U.S. service members’ deaths.
“There are a lot of people and a lot of veterans that are still actively working to try to help those that were left behind,” said Morris.
Then U.S. Army Capt. Jarrod Morris stands with two Afghan National Army soldiers during an expeditionary advising mission near the Torkham border crossing in eastern Afghanistan, March , . Courtesy of Jarrod Morris HANDOUT
For Ramin Rashidi, the U.S. withdrawing troops from his home country was a nightmare.
Rashidi grew up during the s in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s control and later worked for nearly years as a cultural adviser and translator for the U.S. Army before coming to the U.S. in. He said that the country has made a lot of strides in the last few years.
As a father of three children, Rashidi said he particularly fears for the future of women in the country.
“I’m seeing the bad future for women, especially the women that grew up in years and they know their basic rights, and they start working outside. During the Taliban regime, they are not to go out and work,” said Rashidi.
“They used to go outside to school, they learned music, they attended concerts. From today, they will not see this thing, so it will be a shock for them.”
A former Williamsburg resident, he and his family relocated to Stafford through the Special Immigrant Visa program, but he still has family and friends in the country who were unable to make it out.
Rani Mullen, associate professor of government at the College of William & Mary, also said that the withdrawal and resulting humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan did not have to be this way.
Mullen said that the withdrawal should have been condition-based. Though, she feels that Biden inherited a difficult situation, it ultimately falls under him the choice to leave and how it was executed.
Over the past few weeks, Mullen has been working with several non-governmental organizations to help evacuate Afghan women.
As for what’s next, Mullen said she believes that the country will slip back into a state it was back in the s, before the U.S. came in. She said some of the only leverage the west has now is through foreign aid.
Of the hundreds of thousands Afghan refugees who were able to make it out of the country on U.S. and other flights, just over , have already arrived in the U.S., according to an estimate reported by CNBC on Wednesday.
At Fort Lee, in Prince George County, many Afghan refugees are being processed before they travel to their final destination in the U.S.
Stacy Kern-Scheerer, director of W&M Law School’s Immigration Clinic, traveled to Fort Lee last week as a volunteer immigration attorney.
Kern-Scheerer said that she assisted families and individuals with the immigration process. Many were at various stages in the process, from having filed no visa paperwork to some having their green cards by the time they touched down.
Part of her work was going through the legal options with refugees and walking them through the paperwork with the help of a volunteer interpreter.
“There are a lot of challenges in this situation and plus, you know, we have a population that has been and is experiencing something very traumatic,” said Kern-Scheerer.
Though many were still understandably in shock, she said the atmosphere was calm and children appeared happy and cared for.
Commonwealth Catholic Charities, which has seven locations across Virginia, including one in Newport News, provides refugee resettlement services. Local resettlements on the Peninsula are being coordinated through the Newport News office.
According to their website, CCC is an “affiliate of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and one of only nine resettlement agencies with a cooperative agreement with the Department of State.”
CCC has been assisting with Afghan resettlement efforts at Fort Lee since early August, according to Brown.
“We were really on the ground, helping to provide cultural orientation, explain to people what’s happening and what process they were going to be asked to go through before being allowed to move forward to their final destinations,” said Brown.
As part of their resettlement services, they help provide Afghan families with housing placement, school enrollment, health and language support, and education and employment services.
As for how people can help, Brown said CCC is in need of financial assistance, household supply donations, and volunteers to help assist with setting up apartments, coordinating, and more. He also said they need employers and landlords or individuals with housing units that will work with them to provide housing and employment.
“The message that we really want to send is that we’ve got a long way to go, and we’re going to need continued support to really make sure that this … new part of our community is able to be successful,” said Brown.