TRUITT: A military wife reflects on Afghanistan

In this image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Now that American troops have fully withdrawn from Afghanistan, a lot of thoughts have been flooding my mind this week. I want to express those thoughts not just as an education leader but as a wife, mother and American.

As a wife to a service member who has contributed more than 28 years of active and reserve service to the U.S. military — and still counting — my heart breaks for all the loss of life we have seen. This relates not only to the past few days but for the last twenty years.

When I married my husband in 1994, I knew that his service could take him from me. This awareness always stayed with me during his deployments. Unfortunately, the worries I personally experienced as a spouse became, for many wives and husbands, a horrific reality.

I pray for the thousands of Gold Star families that were created by this conflict. I pray that these spouses, parents and children will have the strength to endure the loss of their loved ones and gratefully acknowledge their sacrifices.

Perhaps I even have a little “survivor’s guilt.”

I am also aware that, after the longest war in our nation’s history, we will have an ongoing need to support the veterans living among us who bear the scars of war. A lot of those scars are very visible, but many of the scars of war are much different today than they were in the 20th Century.

Our veterans and their families have wounds from deployments that you may not see. Many of our youngest veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain Injuries and contemplate suicide. It’s been reported that 20 veterans a day take their lives. That is unacceptable for our country.

Our government must take a proactive role in addressing these invisible scars of war. Although the war has ended, we must continue to honor all our veteran heroes, and when you meet one, thank them for their service.

As a mother to two young women and a young man, my thoughts are with the children of Afghanistan.  The reports and videos that are leaking out are gut-wrenching. Girls, younger than my daughters, are being kidnapped to be married off to men that will treat them like property. Boys, younger than my son, are already being recruited and even forced into terrorist service to the Taliban. For those children, if history repeats itself, which it mostly likely will, they will be executed if they do not comply with the terrorists. These harsh realities really should make all of us, as Americans, reflect on how grateful we should be to raise our families in this nation.

As an American, I am angry and frustrated that many of our citizens and incredible allies were left behind after the final military transport departed. I have not seen any of our leaders accept responsibility for a patently obvious and massive failure, and many continue to deny that any problems existed at all. The countless Afghani interpreters and others that aided American troops over the last two decades should not have been abandoned, nor should sophisticated military hardware been left in the hands of a regime that will in all likelihood attack us again.

As a country, we promised these people safety and security as they risked their and their family’s lives for us, and now we left them to fend for themselves. I am also saddened by the massive loss of life over these last few days of our citizens and the lives of the Afghanis.

Seeing these images of life in Afghanistan now should reemphasize how thankful we should all be to live in a country that gives us so many freedoms that many in the Middle East are not granted. If anything positive can come from what we’ve seen transpire in Afghanistan, it is my hope that all Americans can see that even on our worst days, our lives are far better than the situations many around this world find themselves in.

While we continue to strive to be a more perfect nation, we should remain grateful for living in this exceptional country that allows us freedom of religion and speech and the opportunity to vote and raise our families without fear.

Catherine Truitt is the State Superintendent for Public Instruction in North Carolina