Kyle Dykstra is a former paratrooper and forward observer with the 82nd Airborne Division, serving two deployments in eastern and southern Afghanistan. He previously has worked as a security protective specialist for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in Iraq. Upon returning to the U.S., he completed his degree in terrorism and counterterrorism studies from Henley Putnam University and worked as a veterans outreach representative in his local congressional district.
So, you are finally leaving the military. You’ve got your DD-214 in hand and the only thing that stands between you and your impending freedom is a trip to the battalion admin shop. It’s a magical feeling. If you get really lucky, maybe you’ll catch your platoon leader or company commander on the way out and address them by their first name, leaving them confused as to what just happened. You don’t care about the repercussions because they have no power over you as you drive off post for the final time as a service member. Congratulations. By civilian and legal definition, you are officially a veteran.
I remember the specific instance in which I realized I was the problem. It was Christmas and I should have been in better spirits. Instead, I was tearing down my 14-year-old cousin for nothing more than teenage narcissism. I was screaming at my father over something insignificant. I was angry all the time and I had no good reason to be. I was on the verge of destroying the support system that had seen me through the years I had spent overseas. I needed to talk to someone.
After 13 years of continuous war in Afghanistan, in addition to eight years during the same period in Iraq, Congress and the American public are understandably wary of U.S. involvement in yet another conflict. Former officials have pointed to the lack of clear direction in the previous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a sign that while U.S. military intervention may solve an immediate problem, a continued presence only brings diplomatic and political troubles. Now, with the the existence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, aka ISIS, positive solutions are seemingly few and far between.
Congress. In the eyes of service members and veterans, grooming standards and reflective belts are more popular than our national governing body. Yes, it’s ultra-partisan, petulant, and privileged. However, it is not entirely ineffective despite what you may have heard. Congressional offices offer an influential ally, able to assist on anything from a records request to initiating legislation on vets issues. The trick to being successful, however, is knowing how to use it.
There seems to be a fickle measure of success when it comes to the discussion of whether we won or lost the war in Afghanistan. With six weeks remaining until the official end of major U.S. combat operations, the popular talking point among some is that the war in Afghanistan was lost. While President Barack Obama has announced a nearly 10,000 service-member contingent will remain to train Afghan forces, many have dismissed the 13-year war as a failed, listless expedition.