Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
This essay was first published in 2016 and is being reposted for the 18th anniversary of the start of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan.
I remember reading George C. Herring's bookAmerica's Longest Warwhen I was studying history as an undergrad and couldn't wrap my head around how the conflict in Vietnam could have gone on as long as it did. I naively assured myself that despite how horrific the toll of that war was, at least we had learned from our mistakes and would never let that happen again. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Today, Oct. 7, marks the anniversary of combat operations in Afghanistan, which is now our longest war to date, and other than a select few who bear the brunt of this burden, most people won't think twice about this somber and embarrassing anniversary.
Nothing could be more insulting to the troops currently serving.
I grew up with a naive view of the Vietnam War, but in my defense, everything I knew about it stemmed from my uncle’s stories about his time there. When your tio is famed Green Beret and Medal of Honor recipient Roy P. Benavidez, you hear a lot of badass stories.
U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Alejandro Sierras
When I was a young Marine on my first tour in Iraq’s Anbar province, I met then-Lance Cpl. Gabby Altamira. Not only were we both boots, we were also augmented from a different unit, so naturally we were the first ones to be "voluntold" to go on security duty when the time came. I spent a few weeks guarding an empty desert in western Iraq for a few weeks, and Altamira ended up doing something far more impactful.
When I think of “celebrating” Veterans Day, a lot comes to mind: drinking a few cold ones and trading war stories with some fellow vets, chatting with my dad over the phone to thank him for his service, or marching up Fifth Avenue in New York City with my friends from Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America. What I don’t think about, though, is the best way to take advantage of the many sales going on that day.
It’s no secret that our newest generation of warfighters has been plagued with a slew of mental health issues over the past decade and a half. Though suicide statistics are somewhat difficult to come by, there's no doubt that diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues affect significant numbers of post-9/11 vets. Who, if anyone, is to blame for this disgrace? And what can be done about it? These are the questions Tom Donahue brilliantly shines a light on in “Thank You For Your Service” — an important documentary for anyone wanting to understand the impact of mental health problems on our veterans.