If you are a Veteran feeling overwhelmed by what is happening in Afghanistan that is because it is overwhelming.
by James Hendon, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services
As a Combat Veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, I watched the collapse of the Afghan government on television and the fear that spread as the Taliban took over that country. I was engulfed in the terrible images that I saw and was torn between pain, sadness, and rage. After praying about things and confiding in my spouse, I sought out someone who specializes in these conversations and got help with what I was feeling.
In basic training, fresh-faced Army recruits, including myself learned the Soldier’s Creed, encapsulating what it means to be a US Military Service Member. Phrases such as “I will never quit,” “I will always place the mission first,” and “I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life” are drilled into us until we could recite them verbatim. This creed has been the cornerstone of Armed Forces values for more than two centuries.
At its heart, the creed is a vow of obedience to the military and nation it serves. It asks soldiers to put aside any doubts about what they are doing. Soldiers do this, not because it is normal for a human being to unfailingly obey orders, but for the love of country, its ideals, and its people. Service Members make this sacrifice as individuals every day. We cede our viewpoints in support of the great American experiment. We trust that our contributions will, directly and indirectly, advance the world’s first multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy.
And yet, since our country’s founding, after conflicts large and small, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines take stock of the aftermath of the wars they were involved in and are overwhelmed with emotion. The question that often triggers this feeling is, “what did I fight for?” Whether it was the centuries-long engagement with Native Americans, military occupations in Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, or the 1955–1975 War in Vietnam, countless Veterans have deeply reflected on their actions and the worth of the conflicts overall.
To ignore the question “what did I fight for?” is to keep locked a box that holds everything we have seen, done, or experienced while in service that we have chosen not to address and keep repressed inside. Taking an honest, holistic assessment of our nation’s role in the conflicts we have been involved in is good for the soul and allows us as individuals to better reflect on our involvement.
I want you to know that if you are a Veteran, it is okay to admit to yourself and others that the emotions with what is transpiring in Afghanistan are overwhelming and that it is okay if you feel the need to be heard. When you speak with someone, do not share some of it; share all of it and release and confront the mixture of feelings that you have been keeping bottled inside. Open the box.
To all the Veterans and Veteran community members who have been triggered by the past few days’ events — regardless of the era in which you served: do not run away from what you are feeling right now. Instead, I urge you to face it.
You are not in this alone.
Resources for those seeking help can be found at nyc.gov/vets, particularly our Health Resources and Mental Health Services pages. You can call us at 212–416–5250, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact us through social media using the handle @nycveterans for support. Aid can also be found through NYC WELL by calling 1–888-NYC-WELL (692–9355) or texting “WELL” to 65173. The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached by telephone at 1–800–273–8255 (Press 1) and by text at 838255.
Do not hesitate to reach out to our Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) — and their auxiliaries where appropriate — to connect with someone. To name a few of the thousands of VSOs that are available: Team RWB, Vietnam Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The American Legion, The Mission Continues, Disabled American Veterans, Black Veterans for Social Justice, Team Rubicon, and the United War Veterans Council all offer opportunities to tie in further with members of the Veteran community.
Like those who have fought in conflicts on behalf of America for generations, your service was not in vain. Each of us has contributed towards making the United States what it is — a diverse, dynamic, ever-advancing society.
That does not change that we are human beings, and we need one another to get through tough times. The price for America’s success is not only seen through physical injuries incurred by Service Members and allies alike but through hidden wounds inside many of us that require healing. To be clear: we are not broken. However, many of us need time, space, and care through which to reflect and heal.
If you don’t feel that you need help, please take this moment to listen to fellow Veterans who may be having trouble right now. For opportunities to volunteer with local Veterans organizations, visit nyc.gov/vetvolunteer.
God bless you, God bless the City of New York, and God bless America.