For former service members, the Fall of Afghanistan brings mixed emotions

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TOPSHOT – Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The fall of Afghanistan is leaving American men and women who served and sacrificed in the troubled nation reeling with confusion and pain as the mission they worked for 20 years is seemingly washed away.

“It’s a lot of anger, it’s a lot of feelings of betrayal. With what’s been happening over the last couple of days, ashamed how we left things and how we left everyone in Afghanistan,” Ryan Hemhauser, owner of the veteran’s advocacy organization called “Disgruntled Vets”.

Hemhauser says his group is working to get five translators and their families out of the country, with bleak prospects.

People such as translators who helped the American military are often targeted by the Taliban terrorist group for assisting the U.S.

From Hemhauser’s experience, the help was given graciously as the Afghanis were fearful of insurgent groups who would often terrorize townspeople.

“They were happy we were there. A lot of them go to vote for the first time, a lot of women didn’t have to wear the full dress, and they felt freer,” Hemhauser recalls. “At some points, we even made the area so safe that they forgot they were at war, because that country has been at war for a long time.”

Translators, and in Hemhauser’s case, shop owners are who many service men and women grew close with.

They would call Troops the Pashto word for “brother” and on Christmas, shop owners got him and his fellow soldiers a pallet full of Monster energy drinks.

“I don’t know if they’re still alive,” Hemhauser said. “The province I was at, [the Taliban] took that over a couple of weeks ago.”

The security from Americans has easily become American-friendly Afghanis vulnerability as the Taliban has mowed across the nation.

The grief he feels for those families when combined with the dilemma of what many have described as an impossible mission has stretched over the course of two decades.

“We’re torn. We’re ripped into two different pieces. We’re asking ourselves was it worth and I’m happy we’re out of there,” he said.

The way the exit transpired, with videos of Afghanis scaling the walls of Kabul Airport as well as locals clinging to a C-17 military jet, is one of the most disheartening parts about the fall of Afghanistan for Hemhauser.

The conflict was America’s longest war, topping out the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s.

“Being an Afghanistan War Veteran, I never thought we would be the next Vietnam,” Hemhauser says.

That is the image, combined with a mission that took two decades of troops, over 2,500 service men and women killed in the line of duty and tens of thousands of more injuries.

Hemhauser fears there will be more deaths stateside as veterans are already struggling with mental health. Post-traumatic stress disorder and the demoralizing images from Afghanistan can make it worse.

“If you know an Afghan War Veteran, ask them, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ If we isolate, if we just shut down, that’s where the dark thoughts happen,” Hemhauser said. “We did our job. We did it to the full capability that we could. This is not on us.”

On Thursday, Aug. 19 at 6:00 p.m., Disgruntled Vets will host a conversation for service men and women about how they are dealing with the fall of Afghanistan at the Enlisted Association, off of Hancock and South Academy Blvd.

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