There are few things I get truly passionate about - and they take up so much of my energy. I love this life, I am amazed and blessed by my family, I will go to nearly any length to help a fellow Army wife, and I will lose my voice, my sanity and, sometimes, my heart over LSU football. I had an incredible weekend visiting with friends, my alma mater, and enjoying the sea of purple and gold surrounding me. I expected to have people I hadn't seen in some time ask about my children, ask how C is doing over there, ask when he would be home. I expected to hear these things repeatedly as I ventured across the familiar campus throughout the day and I did. There was one question I did not expect and it came after the excitement of the incredible win had died down and the pain of walking the campus all day had settled into our feet.
"Can you tell me why we went over there?" she asked.
I was not surprised by the question itself, I guess. It is a question we all hear over and over and over again but usually with a horrible tone behind it. Her tone was different. She truly, honestly, wanted to know what was being fought for. I wasn't offended by it - not for an instant. As I have said before, I truly believe many people simply don't know the answers to things and cannot understand the reasons behind this battle because the information is not put out there.
I am not going to get political; I am not going to get into why we went over there. Because to be completely frank, it doesn't matter. What I can do, and what I will do, is what I have done a handful of times before for those who truly and open-mindedly wanted to hear what I honestly thought. And what I am going to say, like everything I say is just my opinion. It is my experience with this war, my understanding from what I have learned from my husband and what I have heard from other spouses. And you don't have to agree with it, I don't expect most to agree with it. You don't have to take it as truth, you don't have to like it. But I figured I would answer her other questions here because I never got to answer them all last night. But I will repeat that I do not think that why we went there matters. It does for the history books and for years and years down the road, but for our men and women currently serving this country it does not matter. We are there. That is what I can talk about.
"What are they doing?" she asked next. Not at all offended by my answer to the first question (I hope).
What my husband has been doing in Afghanistan is completely different from what he did in Baghdad a few years ago. And I think that for a lot of this very few people, including myself, can completely understand what they are doing without seeing it. And there are a few explanations I have given in my one-on-one conversations that I won't give in such a public forum so I don't know how effective this will be. But still, I want to try my best to answer the questions that have been put before me.
In this country, I would bet, our poorest people are of greater wealth than most Afghans. I cannot tell you how many times my husband has said after going "out" on a drive, "I have never known such poverty. The kids, Megan, ..." They live in filth, they live in squalor, they live in conditions unthinkable to most of us and don't know anything different. It is easy to say it isn't our problem. Easy to say that helping them is not worth the lives of our defenders and at face value, I would agree. But it is so important to understand how horribly dangerous that absolute poverty is to this country and our way of life. It is because of this poverty that those who wish only harm to us can have such enormous control over this region. Recruitment for terrorism is much easier when it can mean the difference between quite literally having your body eat itself to death from starvation or being able to provide food to one's entire family. It is much easier to recruit when guns are held to the head of one's wife demanding their sons join their training camp. Fear is powerful. Fear is life-altering. Fear from this evil does not just exist here in our country. We are not the only victims of terror.
In Baghdad, my husband viewed and documented the body of a young girl with countless bullet holes throughout her entire body - from head to feet. The smell, the flies surrounding her body, the blackened blood that covered her body will never leave his memory. This toddler was doing nothing wrong when an unimaginable horror entered the home of her family. This is the only thing my husband has ever told me about what he encountered during his tour. This was the first time I had ever heard my husband cry. This moment - with 6,000 miles in between us - will forever be engrained in my head. We are not the only victims.
So many of these people want change. Not to change their way of life, exactly. But they do not want to live in fear. They do not want to live in fear that one day they would be met with the choices of life as one of them or death. One of my husband's interpreters has two little boys - like us. He does not go home to them each night. He will be separated from them for months at a time. But when he lays his head down at night, he does not just wonder how they are doing like my husband. His heart does not just ache because he didn't get to see his youngest son's first steps - like my husband's will. His heart aches because he wonders if he will go home to find his toddler, almost the same age as our Logan, also lying in his bed (if he has one) with his body nearly unrecognizable because of all of the bullets and blood and flies and maggots. This will never be an image my husband has to fear for us. No one will enter our home and kill our children to send him a message like happened in that home in Baghdad, or that his interpreter fears will happen for his family. There are people in these countries that care and that are working hard to change what they have always known.
For each region that our soldiers secure, and then teach a trade, provide a resource, build up a police force, they change the course of things. They make it that much harder for the Taliban to reign over these people. They offer a chance to experience and sustain a life with far less fear, far less opportunity for terror to grow, far more hope for a different future. They diminish the possibility of young boys being stripped from their families or sold by them who can be taught and brutally raised to believe in and conform to the will of the extremist. Our soldiers cannot just wipe them out - but they can make their impact over this region far less intense.
"Why can't they all just leave?"
A good question. And the answer is because it isn't possible. The only safe way to get every service member out of the region at the same time would be by an incredible magic trick. It doesn't happen like that. It won't happen like that. To leave Afghanistan right now would cause the death of far more soldiers. It would be horrendously dangerous and would not take into account the lives of those left behind. We still have posts in Germany, in Korea, in Japan, and will always in Iraq. Whenever we do leave Afghanistan, we will still have some there. If we leave the middle east, it becomes far easier for the extremists in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iran to step up their evil plots because the cost to return soldiers across the world is great, takes incredible coordination and planning and would not happen with the swiftness it would require.
We live in a different time. Wars are different. This enemy is different.
Soldiers are not just "killing Taliban," they are not just searching caves and kicking down doors. Most of them aren't. They are showing how to build, how to teach, how to survive without the threat or option of terror. It is not an easy process and it requires cooperation, patience.
Why we went there doesn't matter. What matters is that we are there. What matters is that our soldiers will do everything in their power to never allow us to live in the fear the Afghans live in.
They are not just helping these people like I described to be good people. We are not providing humanitarian aid. The intentions of our nation are very selfish. By helping them, we help ourselves. By protecting them, and teaching them to protect themselves, we protect ourselves. By securing their future, we secure ours.
It isn't pretty. It isn't fair. But it is how it is. I don't like that we are there just like anyone else. I want nothing more than to live in a world where my husband can be here with me and our children. But, in my opinion, we do not live in that world. We live in a world where our soldiers will fight in whatever way is most effective. What is effective is altering the norm. What is effective is bettering these people. I pray with everything in me that it works.
I do not like this war. No one likes war. But there are times when it is necessary. I grew up with this conflict. I recognize that for those the age of my little sister - they can only remember our country at war. That is beyond frustrating, beyond imaginable, beyond what should seem acceptable. But I believe, with everything that is in me, that our country would have suffered another horrible and terror-filling attack if we had not entered into these countries. I believe that if we leave now, this country will experience another 9/11. As long as he feels that there is something he needs to fight for, as long as he believes that his life is worth losing for this purpose, he will continue to defend this country. As long as my husband is wanting to stand up for this country, I will support and defend his sacrifice.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.