This month marks the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Politicians have varying opinions on the conflict, often depending on party affiliation, but what about the people who have served in the fight against terrorism?
For the military personnel assigned to duty in Afghanistan, it’s not about how much money is being spent on the effort or when the war will end. It’s about their buddies who died in Taliban attacks and wondering if the troops will be going home for good or be deployed again in the seemingly never-ending war in a far-off country.
Queens has lost at least eight soldiers since 2001 — like Sgt. Andrew Seabrooks, 36, of South Ozone Park, who was killed when a bomb hit his vehicle in 2008; and Lance Cpl. Leopold Damas, 26, of Floral Park, who died in 2009 in Helmand Province while serving as a gunner. He previously had served two tours of duty in Iraq.
For many who survived and returned to the mainstream of life in the United States, war is not an easy thing to talk about. And this generation of soldiers does not seem interested in socializing with fellow veterans at the local VFW post.
Steven Epps, community service officer with Proctor-Hopson Post 1896, VFW in Jamaica, said a lot of veterans he knows just don’t want to talk about their experiences in Iraq or Afghanistan. That thought was echoed by Emery Perry of AMVETS Post 10-13 in Cambria Heights.
One veteran working at the Queens Vets Center in Woodhaven said returning soldiers “don’t want to join old men’s clubs. Maybe when we’re older it’ll be different, but not now.”
Paul Narson, the new president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Queens Chapter 32, has strong opinions about the war. “My feeling is if we don’t go in it to win, get the hell out,” Narson said.
Sgt. Winston Weston of Jamaica was hurt while serving in Iraq. He would like the war to be over in Afghanistan. “I don’t like it,” Weston said. “It’s frustrating; we shouldn’t even be there. There has been too much loss.”
Not unexpectedly, opinions vary between Republican and Democrat members of Congress from Queens.
Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, Nassau) serves on the House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia and testified at a hearing in April.
Ackerman had harsh words for the Karzai regime in Afghanistan. He said last week his words are as true now as they were earlier this year.
“The number of attacks against our side continues to rise. The number of fighters on the other side never seems to drop,” Ackerman said. “Afghanistan’s government continues to plumb new depths in the practice of corruption.”
He noted that in 2010, President Obama announced “we are seeing significant progress” against the al Qaeda leadership and the United States is clearing more areas from Taliban control, and more Afghans are reclaiming their communities.
“I know all that,” Ackerman said. “But I can’t see anything changing. The money keeps getting spent and the wounded and dead keep coming home. Maybe from Washington the progress can’t be discerned amid all the conflicting data and narratives. I pray things are going better than can be seen from here.”
But after 10 years of hearing “the same sales pitch,” Ackerman says he doesn’t see improvement. “I doubt our money is buying anything deep or durable. I doubt these new trained security forces are going to take the lead in weeks, much less years.
“I doubt the leaders in the Afghan government ... are going to do anything except pursue their own narrow, venal self-interest,” he continued. “And most of all, I doubt that we aren’t being taken for suckers and that the massive expenditures and the terrible sacrifices of our troops will be vindicated by anything that resembles success.”
New Congressman Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn) takes a softer approach. “I will leave our military commitment in Afghanistan up to the generals in the field,” Turner said. “If they believe the sacrifice of our solders continues to be necessary to prevent attacks on U.S. soil, then we have no choice but to let them finish the task.”
However, the congressman does not want U.S. service members there indefinitely. “Let’s not keep our troops in Afghanistan a minute longer than is necessary to accomplish that mission,” he said.