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Opinion: Today, let’s honor the veterans of the war in Afghanistan

On Veterans Day, we cannot forget the 2,448 American service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom

A flag is folded in Washington to observe the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
To observe the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, former sentinels are joined by the Ceremonial Unit of the U.S. Capitol Police for a flag folding observance at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. The special flag was flown over several American military cemeteries at World War I battle sites in France.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

I come from a family with deep roots in the military. Four of my five brothers served in the Armed Forces. My father served as a pilot in World War II. And I followed in his footsteps, serving in the Air Force for 14 years. To this day, my wife and I both feel that serving our great nation was the highest honor of our lives.

Every Veterans Day, I reflect on that honor. I consider my own time in the military. I think about the great men and women, my life’s dearest friends, who I had the privilege of serving alongside. I pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And I pray for the families of those heroes who laid down their lives for our nation. It is because of these brave Americans that we can enjoy our freedoms.

I know firsthand many of the sacrifices necessary to ensure that freedom. Fathers spending months or years deployed overseas. Young mothers left to take care of their children, shovel the walks, mow the lawn and fix broken cars. Spouses spending birthdays and anniversaries alone. Children going to bed without a kiss goodnight from their mother or father. Parents saying goodbye to their children, hoping — praying — they will see them again. Brave men and women standing in face of fear and danger, defending their country, defending their home.

I encourage all of you to consider those sacrifices and thank all our veterans, today and every day.

But this year, I believe we should all make those thanks especially evident to veterans of the Afghanistan War. And our message to those heroes needs to be clear: Your service and sacrifice made the world a safer place.

In today’s climate, no issue is immune to politicization. This was particularly true regarding our withdrawal from Afghanistan. During both the Trump and Biden administrations, I supported the decision for withdrawal from our nation’s longest war.

Every year, resentment and anger at the U.S. presence was growing. And every year, we sacrificed blood and treasure toward a mission in which we no longer knew what “success” even looked like. So, I concluded that it was time to change our strategy. I felt we should leave enough troops in-country to defend Bagram Air Base and our embassy, and continue basic counterterrorism operations, but bring the other troops home.

But, as most would surely agree, the execution of that withdrawal was nothing short of a catastrophe.

Allowing weapons, helicopters, ammunition and classified documents to fall into the hands of the Taliban is inexcusable. Not being able to defend our own embassy is a disgrace. Leaving the Afghani soldiers and interpreters who fought beside us to fend for themselves is incomprehensible. Leaving American citizens behind enemy lines is unforgivable.

Simply put, it was a fundamental failure of leadership. But it would be an injustice to allow that failure to distract from the heroism of those soldiers who fought to protect America for more than 20 years.

President Ronald Reagan once said, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in this world. The Marines don’t have that problem.” Truer words have never been spoken, and it is our duty to appreciate the positive difference our troops have made to not only the lives of Americans, but those all around the world.

We cannot forget the millions of Afghanis, including women and girls, who were given their first experience of safety and freedom. We cannot forget the 2,448 American service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. We cannot forget those who were most recently lost in the tragic bombing in Kabul, including a brave U.S. Marine from Utah. And we cannot forget those pilots who carried thousands of Americans and Afghan allies to safety in the face of chaos, as well as the countless acts of valor we may never know.

For more than 20 years, these are the heroes who defended not only our country, but also our ideals. These are the heroes who represent the best of America — those who gave their lives in faraway places so that we can know peace here at home.

These are the heroes we have to thank for our way of living: strong and free and proud.

Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican, represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.