Veterans' Day: Afghanistan vet reflects on US withdrawal - opinion

Micah Quinney Jones dedicated years to service in the US army. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has left him with conflicting emotions.

 AFGHAN REFUGEES arrive at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in September. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
AFGHAN REFUGEES arrive at Dulles International Airport in Virginia in September.
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

This Veterans Day had a particular weight that I have not felt in years past. Normally a day for me to think of my relatives, friends and my own service to the country, this Veterans Day is particularly significant for two reasons: (1) it marks the first year in which I have been a veteran longer than I have been on active duty; and (2) it has viscerally reminded me of the importance of what it means to serve in the wake of the United States’ catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan and our betrayal of our Afghan and NATO allies.

I was honorably discharged as a captain in June 2016, having served just over five years as an active-duty US Army military intelligence branch detail infantry officer. I loved my time in the army and I truly appreciated the opportunity to serve. Following in the footsteps of my grandfathers and father, I was proud to continue the family lineage of military service to the United States of America.

In serving in the army, I learned what it was like to be humbled, to suffer and to overcome challenges that I would have previously viewed as unconquerable. In truly internalizing what it meant to put my fellow soldiers before myself, my military service made me a better civilian, a better husband, a better son and a better man. To now have been a civilian longer than I was an active-duty soldier is a reminder that I will always carry those hard-earned lessons with me, no matter what my future endeavors may be.

This Veterans Day was also a reminder that one’s service does not cease when he takes off the uniform. The mindset of selfless service and the importance of helping others, that so many other veterans and I forged during our time in the military, is one that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. For the last two months, countless other veterans and I have put that mindset to the test as we have been actively involved in helping our former Afghan allies and their families escape horrific fates from the Taliban. As I am still actively assisting a former Afghan colleague, I cannot go into much detail about my own personal involvement, but I can say that I have been working since mid-August in the veterans’ network helping Afghan refugees.

Never have I been so simultaneously disappointed in my country and so proud of my fellow veterans as I have been since the US’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. I believe that there was an unfathomable failure of leadership at the highest levels of the Pentagon, State Department and White House, as we abandoned hundreds of Americans, deserted our Afghan allies, sold nearly 20 million Afghan women into lives of sexual slavery and caused 13 US service members to be murdered by the Islamic State-Khorasan Province.

 Taliban fighters check on injured comrades at the entrance of the emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan November 2, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA) Taliban fighters check on injured comrades at the entrance of the emergency hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan November 2, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA)

But the veterans' network that I was so fortunate to be a part of demonstrated the warrior ethos of doing our best to not leave anyone behind. From group chats providing the latest reports of what was happening on the ground in Kabul, to consoling each other during 3 a.m. phone calls when the horror of what was transpiring was too much to bear, the veterans’ network was united in its mutual support and strength.

No matter the branch of service, and no matter whether we all agree on the nuances of the issues, the collective veterans’ network was there for each other because we all shared a mutual understanding of what it was like to have served. We knew that we were doing what we had been trained to do: to help those less fortunate and to represent the best values of our country.

As I have reflected on this Veterans Day, I have thought of my family, friends, and fellow service members who have donned the uniform of one of the branches of the US military in service to the nation. Most of all, I will think of the veterans who have continued to do everything they can in order to help Afghans and allies in need, as well as each other. At a time in which the country can feel like it is at an inflection point, and coming apart at the seams, my fellow veterans give me hope in the future of America because they know that no matter our differences, it is our common strength and identity as a nation that will carry the day.

So to my fellow veterans on Veterans Day 2021, thank you for your service to the country we love. 

The writer is an attorney, a Jewish US Army veteran with deployments to Afghanistan and a pro-Israel advocate. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Service. He is a publishing adjunct at The Miryam Institute.