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Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, September 23, 2019 which is National Checkers Day, National Dogs in Politics Day, National Great American Pot Pie Day and First Day of Fall.
This Day in Legion History:
- Sept. 23, 1943: With more than 600 unpassed bills languishing in Congress that aim to address the needs of disabled World War II veterans coming home to a lack of support at a rate of about 75,000 per month, newly elected American Legion National Commander Warren Atherton of California makes the correction of this problem the organization’s No. 1 priority. The Legion soon determines that one omnibus bill is needed to tackle the various educational and economic needs of transitioning war veterans, disabled or not.
- Sept. 23-26, 1935: Delegates at The American Legion National Convention pass Resolution 205 opposing Nazism, communism and fascism, all of which are gaining steam in Europe, recruiting adherents in the United States and ultimately leading the world to war.
This Day in History:
- On September 23, 1875, Billy the Kid is arrested for the first time after stealing a basket of laundry. He later broke out of jail and roamed the American West, eventually earning a reputation as an outlaw and murderer and a rap sheet that allegedly included 21 murders.
- 1806: Amid much public excitement, American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark return to St. Louis, Missouri, from the first recorded overland journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast and back. The Lewis and Clark Expedition had set off more than two years before to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times: This week in Congress: VA policy talk before fall break
- Military Times: AMVETS plans massive Memorial Day motorcycle rally to replace Rolling Thunder’s ride
- Stripes: VA says veteran suicide rate is 17 per day after change in calculation
- Military Times: Veteran suicides increase despite host of prevention, mental health efforts
- Defense News: Facing Iran, Saudi Arabia still owes US $181 million for Yemen refueling
- USA Today: Afghanistan War veterans, still waiting for a peace deal, ask: Was the sacrifice worth it?
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Military Times: This week in Congress: VA policy talk before fall break
By: Leo Shane III 8 hours ago
Congress enters the final week of September with a looming budget deadline and a host of veterans policy hearings before a two-week fall break starts on Friday.
The Senate is expected to vote on a short-term budget extension later this week that would extend the fiscal 2019 budget until late November, so lawmakers can negotiate the details of a full-year budget. Several conservative lawmakers have voiced concerns about the plan, but without its adoption a partial government shutdown would start next week.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on toxic exposure issues on Wednesday, while the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has several oversight hearings on VA medical issues scheduled throughout the week.
Staff from both committees are eyeing a possible legislative package for later this year, to possibly include changes on VA medical and benefits policies.
Tuesday, Sept. 24
House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2172 Rayburn
Outside experts will testify on instability in Syria.
Senate Foreign Relations — 2:30 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
Outside experts will testify on instability in Syria.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs — 10 a.m. — 418 Russell
VA and outside experts will testify on the department’s decision making process in toxic exposure benefits cases.
House Veterans’ Affairs — 10 a.m. — Visitors Center H210
VA and outside experts will testify on the department’s new changes to community care programs, and implementation of the Mission Act.
Senate Foreign Relations — 10:15 a.m. — 419 Dirksen
State Department officials will testify on U.S. policy towards Mexico and South America.
House Transportation — 2 p.m. — 2253 Rayburn
Coast Guard and Port Infrastructure
Coast Guard and other federal officials will testify on U.S. port infrastructure and maritime strategy.
House Armed Services — 2 p.m. — 2118 Rayburn
Navy and Air Force officials will testify on the status of the B61-12 life extension program and the W88 alteration-370 program.
House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — 2172 Rayburn
State Department officials and outside experts will testify on the impact of U.S. foriegn assistance cuts to Central American countries.
Senate Homeland Security — 2:30 p.m. — 342 Dirksen
Outside experts will testify on recent changes with the threat of domestic terrorism.
House Veterans’ Affairs — 3 p.m. — 303 Cannon
Military Sexual Trauma
The committee’s task force on women veterans will hear from outside experts on military sexual trauma issues.
House Veterans’ Affairs — 10 a.m. — Visitors Center H210
Department officials will testify on implementation of new medical appointment scheduling technology.
House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2172 Rayburn
U.S. Pacific strategy
The committee will hold a joint hearing with the House Natural Resources panel to discuss the U.S. strategy in the Pacific.
House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — 2172 Rayburn
State Department officials will testify on the fiscal 2020 nonproliferation budget proposal.
Military Times: AMVETS plans massive Memorial Day motorcycle rally to replace Rolling Thunder’s ride
By: Leo Shane III 2 days ago
AMVETS officials will sponsor a three-day, motorcycle-themed demonstration rally in Washington, D.C. next Memorial Day weekend to replace the annual Rolling Thunder celebration that annually draws tens of thousands to the nation’s capital.
The new event, titled the “Rolling to Remember” Demonstration Run, will run from May 22 to 24 and retain the old event’s focus on public awareness of troops still missing in action from overseas conflict.
But AMVETS officials said the program will also heavily emphasize more public discussion of the national veterans suicide crisis, which claims 20 lives a day.
“(The goal) is to remember those who have yet to come home, to remember those who are in harm’s way, and to remember those who came home but are still struggling, to remember we as a country are still a long way to fulfilling our promises to those who served,” said AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown during a Friday press conference on the plans at Harley-Davidson of Washington D.C.
AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly said the event won’t use the Rolling Thunder name but will work closely with past organizers to coordinate logistics for what they hope is a massive demonstration.
“It’s not a parade. It’s not a party,” he said. “It’s not a free-for-all to block the roads and cruise Constitution Avenue without traffic … It is a demonstration, something of a protest, of our failings (as a country) over the years. We must own those failings.”
For the last 32 years, the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day ride has drawn ever-larger crowds to the streets of Washington, D.C., and with it a host of security and planning headaches.
Last year, organizers announced they were ending the event because of the costs, including a bill of more than $200,000 for use of the Pentagon parking lots for pre-staging motorcycles before the ride.
Chenelly said his group has already applied for new permits with military officials to use the lots next year, and with National Parks Service officials to set up a stage at the Lincoln Memorial for three days of speakers and presentations.
He said the group is working with potential sponsors to defray some of the costs, and asking for volunteers both inside and outside the veterans community to help make the event a success.
Just hours before the final Rolling Thunder event last May, President Donald Trump posted praise for the riders on social media and promised “The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, D.C. next year, & hopefully for many years to come.”
Chenelly said his group is working with White House officials to coordinate the new event’s logistics. The planned route for the ride for now includes motorcycles traveling in front of the White House and Capitol building, passing the National Mall and other landmarks along the way.
More information and event registration is available on the AMVETS web site.
Officials said the event will continue to be free, but advance registration will help them gauge crowd size and staffing requirements.
Friday’s announcement event corresponded with National POW/MIA Recognition Day. About 81,000 service members are still listed as missing in action in wars overseas.
Stripes: VA says veteran suicide rate is 17 per day after change in calculation
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 20, 2019
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs has altered how it calculates the average number of veteran suicides each day, meaning the 20-per-day statistic — widely known and often cited by elected officials — has changed to 17.
The VA released its annual National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report on Friday, tracking the changes from year to year. The 2019 report includes data from 2017, the most recent available.
More veterans died by suicide in 2017 than the previous year, the report shows. There were 6,139 veteran suicide deaths in 2017, an increase of 129 from 2016.
However, the new report lists the daily average of veteran suicides at 17, down from the 20 per day reported in previous years. The VA explained that it removed servicemembers, as well as former National Guard and Reserve members who were never federally activated, from its count.
There were an average of 2.5 suicide deaths per day in 2017 among National Guard and Reserve members who were never federally activated, the report shows. The report doesn’t include active-duty servicemember suicides. The VA said in a statement the Department of Defense would publish a separate report focusing on those deaths.
“This change was necessary because these groups are unique and do not all qualify for the same benefits and services, therefore they require individualized outreach strategies,” the VA said in a statement.
It was revealed last year that the 20-per-day statistic was misunderstood and included the deaths of active-duty servicemembers and members of the Guard and Reserve, not just veterans.
At the time, Craig Bryan, a psychologist and leader of the National Center for Veterans Studies, said the distinction could help advocates in the fight against military and veteran suicide.
“The benefit of separating out subgroups is that it can help us identify higher risk subgroups of the whole, which may be able to help us determine where and how to best focus resources,” Bryan said.
The new report shows that suicide among veterans continues to be higher than the rest of the population. The suicide rate among male veterans was 1.3 times the rate for other adult men in 2017. For women, the contrast is even more stark. The rate among female veterans was 2.2 times the rate for other adult women that year.
Veterans continue to use guns more than any other means of suicide. Firearms were used in nearly 70 percent of veteran suicides in 2017. For the rest of the U.S. population, firearms were used in 48 percent of suicides.
The highest suicide rate was among younger veterans, ages 18 to 34. In 2017, there were 44.5 suicides for every 100,000 veterans in that age group.
While younger veterans account for the highest rate of suicide, older veterans had the greatest total number of suicides in 2017. Veterans ages 55 to 74 accounted for 38 percent of all veteran suicide deaths that year.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the data was “an integral part of our public health approach to suicide prevention.”
A federal investigation found last year that the money and effort expended by the VA on suicide prevention outreach dropped significantly in 2017 and 2018, despite it being touted by the past two VA secretaries as their top clinical priority.
The Government Accountability Office reported in December that the VA left nearly $5 million unused in its suicide prevention outreach budget. The number of social media posts, public service announcements, billboards, and radio, bus, Facebook and print advertisements declined in 2017 and 2018.
The agency claimed there has since been significant improvements.
In June, Keita Franklin, the director of the VA’s suicide prevention office, left the agency after holding the position for nearly two years. Veterans Crisis Line Director Matt Miller took the job on an interim basis. A permanent replacement has yet to be named.
Military Times: Veteran suicides increase despite host of prevention, mental health efforts
By:Leo Shane III 2 days ago
Veterans suicides rose in 2017 despite concerted efforts in recent years from federal officials and lawmakers to address mental health and emergency intervention services within the military community.
Veterans Affairs officials noted in a new analysis released Friday that because of a data delay, their report does not take into effect any new initiatives put in place over the last 22 months. They also emphasized in the report that suicide prevention has become a major public health problem throughout the country, not just in the veterans community.
“Veterans do not live, work, and serve in isolation from the community, the nation, or the world,” the report states. “The issue of suicide in the U.S. also affects the veteran population.”
But the increase in the number of veterans who die by suicide represents another setback for advocates who have worked in recent years to address the problem through public awareness campaigns, easier access to psychological treatment and aggressive messaging against the stigma of seeking mental health care.
More than 6,100 veterans died by suicide in 2017, about 17 individuals per day. That’s up about 2 percent from 2016 and about 6 percent over the previous 12 years.
The shift is even more pronounced considering that the total number of veterans in America is decreasing each year, as older generations of former military personnel age. The total number of veterans in America dropped almost 2 percent from 2016 to 2017 (about 370,000 veterans) and was down almost 18 percent from 2005 to 2017.
Department officials in recent years have quoted the rate of veterans suicides across the country as “20 per day,” reflecting past figures which included active-duty military, guardsmen and reservists who served on active-duty, and National Guard and reserve members who were never federally activated.
Officials said they changed this year’s report to focus solely on veterans to avoid confusion about the population they monitor and directly assist. If the other military and never-activated reservist numbers were included, it would have pushed the suicide rate for the total veteran-connected group to about 21 individuals per day.
Nearly 87 Americans die by suicide each day, according to federal statistics.
Women with prior military service are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as their civilian peers, according to the report. Male veterans are 1.3 times as likely to die by suicide as men who never served.
Almost two-thirds of the suicide deaths among veterans in 2017 were individuals who had no contact with the Veterans Health Administration. VA officials in recent years have focused on public outreach efforts to address that problem, noting limited opportunities to share information on support services with veterans who they don’t interact with regularly.
In a letter accompanying the report, Dr. Richard Stone — executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration — said that suicide “is a national public health problem that disproportionately affects those who served our nation.” He called upon community partners to work with the department on “actionable, manageable steps” to address the problem.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced the formation of a new task force lead by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to focus on the issue of veteran and military suicide prevention. Among the issues that group of federal officials is considering is how to more quickly compile national suicide data, to provide quicker analysis of how prevention programs are performing.
The task force is expected to issue a formal report early next spring.
The full suicide report is available on the VA web site.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Defense News: Facing Iran, Saudi Arabia still owes US $181 million for Yemen refueling
By:Joe Gould 2 days ago
WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon was set to outline new military options to President Donald Trump on Friday to respond to an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, but Riyadh still has an unpaid bill with the Pentagon for $181 million over assistance in Yemen.
Despite the Trump administration’s emphasis on the U.S.-Saudi alliance in the wake of an attack that both sides attribute to Iran, Saudi Arabia has not repaid the Pentagon for its midair refueling assistance for its bombing runs over Yemen, nine months after the Pentagon announced it would seek to recoup its costs.
Amid questions about whether it was the responsibility of the Saudis to defend themselves, Trump ― known for his perennial focus on burden-sharing in security arrangements ― told reporters on Monday that Saudi Arabia would play a large role. He emphasized that Riyadh has been a “great ally” for its investments in the U.S., saying: "Saudi Arabia pays cash.”
Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that as the U.S. builds a regional coalition to face Iran, America will not shoulder the costs by itself. “We’re also working on the cost of this whole endeavor, and Saudi Arabia has been very generous,” Trump said.
The unpaid bill for refueling contrasts with those comments, and it is already inflaming U.S. lawmakers, many of whom are frustrated with Riyadh’s alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Yemen war’s civilian toll.
“Saudi failure to reimburse us for aircraft refueling — hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars — involves both deep insult and costly injury. It is entirely unacceptable that the Saudis have not reimbursed the Department of Defense for hundreds of millions in refueling costs," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement. “The American taxpayer-funded U.S. Department of Defense is not the Saudi Royal Family’s piggy bank.”
Inquiries from Blumenthal and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., prompted the Pentagon to announce in December that it would seek to recoup the money it failed to charge the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for aid for the midair refueling ― which Riyadh ended in 2018.
The original balance due was since revised from $331 million to $291 million, and the Pentagon has separately recouped $118 million from the UAE, but Saudi Arabia has not repaid the United States, according to congressional sources. Blumenthal is pressing for language in the annual defense policy bill to require the Pentagon regularly update Congress on the matter.
It’s unclear why Saudi Arabia has not made the payments. The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich declined to provide the specifics of its collection efforts on Thursday, but confirmed that "the process of reimbursement is continuing, and we continue to expect full reimbursement of refueling expenses.”
Becca Wasser, a senior policy analyst at the think tank Rand, said Saudi Arabia has an interest in being on Congress’ good side, especially as it may seek to buy American counter-drone weapons or augment its arsenal of Patriot missile defense systems, which are produced by American defense contractor Raytheon.
“Saudi Arabia learned about the importance of the U.S. Congress the hard way, as a result of the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Wasser said. “With Saudi Arabia at risk of future attacks, they would want to make sure they don’t have any issues looming over their military relationships.
“You don’t want to want to have a bill with the Department of Defense at the same time you are asking for additional things from the Department of Defense.”
Trump was scheduled to have a meeting Friday to consider a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, according to U.S. officials familiar with the planned discussions. He will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, the U.S. officials told The Associated Press. Iran has denied involvement in the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure and warned the U.S. that any attack on it will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation.
Critics in Congress says the president should not lead the country into an unnecessary conflict with Iran to protect Saudi Arabian oil. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, pledged to file a war powers resolution to force a Senate vote to immediately end any such military action.
The Pentagon said the U.S. military is working with Saudi Arabia to find ways to better protect the northern part of the country. Meanwhile, a forensic team from U.S. Central Command is pouring over cruise missile and drone debris in search of hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not complete.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Marco della Cava, USA TODAYPublished 11:05 a.m. ET Sept. 21, 2019
Isiah James was stationed in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago. But something the village elders would whisper haunts him to this day.
“They’d look at us and say, ‘You may have the watches, but we have the time,’” says James, 32, a onetime Army infantryman.
After 18 years of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, that waiting game continues, leaving some veterans questioning whether the conflict — and the personal risks they took for their countrymen — were worth it. President Donald Trump, who has complained about wasted "blood and treasure” in Afghanistan and has vowed to pull all U.S. troops, now seems less sure of a full withdrawal.
“Afghanistan is an unwinnable war, an empire killer," says James, who is now running for a Democratic congressional seat in New York. "Ask Alexander the Great, ask the Russians. America is no different."
The Trump administration appeared poised to wrap up a conflict that began as a Special Operations campaign shortly after 9/11 and peaked a decade ago with a massive presence of 100,000 troops. It has since become the nation’s second-longest-running war, after Vietnam, costing in excess of $2 trillion.
Last October, U.S. diplomats opened up peace talks with Taliban representatives in Oman, negotiations that had built to once-secret meetings at Camp David. But on Sept. 9, in response to a Taliban attack that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 others, Trump called that dialog “dead.”
The violence has since escalated. On Sept. 16, two Taliban suicide bombers killed 48 people in attacks aimed at disrupting Afghanistan’s Sept. 28presidential elections, in which President Ashraf Ghani is seeking a second five-year term.
Roughly 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Some 2,400 U.S. soldiers have died in the war.
“In scholarship circles, there are roughly two camps on this war: one crowd that says ‘This never would have worked, and we should have seen that,’ and the other that says ‘It could have, but we’ve done it all badly,’” says Aaron O’Connell, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas, Austin, who is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and served as special assistant to General David Petraeus in Afghanistan.
O’Connell says some of the mistakes made include the withdrawal of troops and aid when the U.S. decided to invade Iraq in 2003, which led then-President Hamid Karzai to “strike corrupt bargains with strongmen that delegitimized his government.” But perhaps the biggest problem was simply establishing a presence as “military occupiers” that fundamentally undermined nation-building efforts, he says.
Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., says launching the war was likely an error from the beginning.
“Sticking kids over there without the right training for the job at hand wasn’t right,” says Jones, director of the center’s Transnational Threats Project and author of “In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan.” “It was a mistake to think we could use conventional forces for this mission.”
For those who risked their lives while tasked with improving the quality of life in Afghanistan, questions about wrapping up the war have become more intense as the Trump administration has debated officially ending the conflict.
“It’d be great if Afghanistan were now like Switzerland, a beautiful mountainous place that’s free and peaceful with no Taliban, but it’s not,” says Erik Haass, 43, a management consultant from Chicago and veteran of two Afghan tours as part of the Army’s Chosen Company, which repelled a storied 2008 Taliban attack in the Battle of Wanat.
“I’m glad we got in and I’m proud of what we did,” Haass adds. “But I can also understand that after almost two decades of open conflict, it’s a lot to ask of our military and the American people.”
A recent Pew Research Center poll suggests that both the general public and U.S. veterans agree things were not handled well. In a survey conducted last spring, 59 percent of the public and 58 percent of vets said that, when considering cost versus benefit, the Afghanistan War was "not worth fighting."
“History will indict us to some degree,” says Paul Toolan, a Green Beret who was in Afghanistan half a dozen times between 2003 and 2012 and is now deputy commander at the 1st Special Warfare Training Group in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“Our motto while there was, ‘You can’t want it more than they do,’” says Toolan. “Our biggest problem is we were never able to step far enough back to allow the Afghan infrastructure to stand on its own two feet. But for our national security interests to be assured, the Afghans had to govern themselves. So we got heavily invested.”
For some veterans, the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden should have spelled the end of operations in Afghanistan.
When President George W. Bush initiated Operation Enduring Freedom on Oct. 7, 2001, the stated aim was killing bin Laden. On May 2, 2011, that mission finally was accomplished in a nighttime raid on bid Laden’s redoubt in neighboring Pakistan.
Kyle Bibby, 33, of Jersey City, New Jersey, was a Marine stationed in Afghanistan on the day bin Laden died. “Right after that, my first thought was, what the f–k are we still doing here?” says Bibby, now a lead organizer with Common Defense, a New York-based nonprofit with a mission is to draw veterans to progressive causes. “When we didn’t leave, it seemed like we were suddenly OK with an endless war.”
Bibby says he is lucky because he came back “with all my digits and body parts, but a lot of guys died and you have survivor’s guilt, you wonder if their sacrifice was in vain.”
Other Afghanistan War vets say they grapple with the same doubt. Ian Eads, 37, another Chosen Company veteran who did two tours in Afghanistan a decade back, says he would “never trade the experience for anything and I’d never want to do it again.”
Eads, now a police officer in Newport, Kentucky, saw his service as a job, one that sometimes meant killing people and other times meant befriending them. “I remember one Afghan that had a little shop at our base,” he says. “I’d trust him with my kids.”
But when he returned home, his survivor’s guilt sometimes had him contemplating suicide, he says. He has battled valiantly to find purpose and meaning.
“So many people were lost, it was so big a price to pay,” he says quietly. “If it’s going to end, I feel like that’s good. But is it that we’re just giving up, or did we fix it?”
For many vets, another frustration stems from wondering if they’re the only ones thinking about the situation in Afghanistan. Unlike the Vietnam War — which ended in 1975 after 20 years and claimed 57,000 American servicemen — the Afghanistan War is being fought with a volunteer force.
“Because we don’t have a draft, the average American person isn’t impacted by these conflicts, but we need to look at how something like this 18-year war impacts families who are involved,” says Brooklynne Mosley, 35, of Lawrence, Kansas, who is a Democratic political operative in her state. She flew 190 combat sorties mostly over Afghanistan helping refuel Air Force jets from tankers.
“The people in Afghanistan don’t know why we’re there, and most Americans don’t know why we’re there,” says Mosley, whose little brother was 9 months old during 9/11 and now is entering college. “We’re going to have a hard time recruiting for more forever wars. We need to get out of there. We should be focusing our resources here on America and our crumbling infrastructure.”
Mission not accomplished in Afghanistan
Vets caution that the Afghan conflict defies facile pronouncements and easy conclusions. The very nature of both the country’s topography and its history virtually guaranteed that U.S. forces would be facing a difficult mission.
“It’s a difficult region to govern, due to the landscape, with lots of rural townships, so it’s a complicated case,” says Richard Brookshire, 31, of New York City, who is a strategist with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He served in Afghanistan in 2011 as a combat medic who trained other medics.
“As a vet thinking about the potential end of the conflict, it’s just complex,” he says. “The ideologies propelling what’s on the ground won’t disappear because we leave. So, for me and my comrades, it doesn’t feel like we’ve accomplished a mission because it was such a complicated mission.”
Haass, the management consultant from Chicago, felt a patriotic call to action shortly after the Twin Towers fell. He was injured shortly after he was deployed when a mission involving clearing out a basement put a bullet in his hand and knee. He says he has no regrets.
“I seriously don’t think we had a choice, something had to be done after 9/11,” he says. “We made an honest effort at doing the right thing.”
James, the infantryman turned would-be politician, also is proud of his service but daily mourns those lost. "For me, Forever 21 isn’t the name of a store in a mall, it’s friends who ceased to exist after that birthday, brothers I’ll never get back," he says.
James hopes there will be more national dialog over what happens next in Afghanistan.
"At this point, we’re not going to bomb or shoot our way out of Afghanistan,” he says. “We can only talk our way out.”
Follow USA TODAY national correspondent Marco della Cava: @marcodellacava