“Fear causes hesitation and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true,” Kelly Barnett, Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover’s mother said. “My worst fear has come true, and I have been hesitant about speaking out, and I’m not doing that anymore.”

Barnett’s opening remarks at Escondido City Hall in California on Monday filled a quiet room. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., held the first congressional forum for the Gold Star families of the 13 service members lost in the Afghanistan withdrawal in August 2021.

Two suicide bombings took place at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 21, 2021, amid a chaotic evacuation and withdrawal of U.S. troops, killing 13 U.S. service members and over 150 Afghans trying to flee the country.

The Biden administration was seeking a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. They began the withdrawal on May 1, 2021 and set a deadline for the withdrawal on Sept. 11, 2021 — the 20th anniversary of the war’s start.

The war officially ended on Aug. 30, 2021.

Hoover, from Salt Lake City, was one of the service members who lost their lives in the airport bombings.

“(This is) for my son. I’m gonna be brave and tell you about my kid,” Barnett said.

Hoover’s mom opened up about her son’s character, describing him as a natural born leader.

“He led by his heart and his knowledge, he never led by his title ever,” she said. “He always, always, always gave his whole heart to everything that he did.”

Barnett said her son’s concern began the moment he landed. “His words were, ‘chaos, no communication, lack of leadership,’” she said. “He said he’d never seen anything like it.”

Hoover had been deployed to Afghanistan twice before his final deployment.

“I now know the command cares nothing for us,” Hoover told his mom.

“My son, these 12 others left this Earth thinking their command cared nothing for them. The wounded felt their command felt nothing for them, the survivors felt that their command felt nothing for them,” Barnett said. “I feel this as well.”

Barnett said after the troops had watched their friends die, then being told to destroy everything at the airport, they were told they had to clean up the airport because “we can’t leave it dirty for the Taliban.”

“What kind of disrespect? What kind of hatred for our military?” she said, between sobs.

“Confusion, deceit, lost, angry, sad, heartbroken and disgusted.” Barnett said, describing the feelings she and Hoover’s family have.

“We were told lies, given incomplete reports, incorrect reports, total disrespect,” she said.

“There were gunshots. All I wanted to know was where my kid was, where he fell, how long did he last? Did he fight? I was told to my face that he died on impact. That’s not true. The only reason that I know this is because witnesses told me the truth,” she said.

“I don’t understand the reasoning for that lie. It makes no sense. ... Did they really even do an investigation?”

She asked why there couldn’t have been some sort of apology because at least that would have been something.

Family members attend a vigil to honor the life and service of Marine Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Hoover was one of the 13 U.S. service members killed by the terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. | Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

“I want justice. I want accountability,” Barnett said.

In a press release Issa said, “For almost two years, the Gold Star Families of the fallen in Afghanistan have waited for answers and accountability for the loss of their loved ones — and they have waited long enough.”

“At every turn, they’ve been shut out and ignored by the Biden administration that prefers to turn the page on its disaster. That stops now.”

After several other family members spoke and shared their stories of lost loved ones, Issa said this forum won’t be the last.

“There are many, many questions unasked or unspoken today that have been asked that we will get to the bottom of, so for the families who came so far and said what they said here today, thank you,” Issa said.

Darin Hoover, Taylor’s father, shared how his son left big shoes to fill — shoes that may never be filled.

“This compassionate and caring man was always looking out for others, but especially his Marines,” his dad said.

Darin Hoover said his son will forever live on through the lives he touched.

“He would never hesitate to pull a Marine — regardless of rank — to the side and ask him how things were going if he had the slightest inclination that there was something bothering him,” Darin Hoover said.

Darin Hoover also called out the Biden administration, and while he understands war, the withdrawal from Afghanistan didn’t need to happen the way it did.

“For those who had power over our military, know that they made a conscious decision that led to the chaotic and frantic withdrawal from Afghanistan. ... To say that they’re satisfied with the withdrawal of our troops is nothing short of disgusting and ignorant.”

Neighbor Cora McIllece puts up flags around the house belonging to the father of U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover Jr. in Sandy on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Hoover Jr. was killed in the suicide bombing at the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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Darin Hoover spoke specifically about several leaders in command of the operation.

“I’m calling out Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, General Milley, General McKenzie, Lieutenant Colonel Whitehead, who could not give the order to the snipers to take out the bomber before he detonated his vest,” he said. “And ultimately the President, do what our son did — be a grown ... man. Admit to your mistakes, learn from them, so that this doesn’t happen ever, ever again.”

The other service members killed were Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Roseville, north of Sacramento; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio; Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming; Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga; Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco; Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska; Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts; Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana; and Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri.

Also, Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.

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