WASHINGTON — John Siemietkowski called the US Embassy home for a brief time when he served in Afghanistan as an Army reservist there from October 2016 to September 2017.
Tom Porter worked from the Kabul airport as a Navy public affairs officer when he was in the country in 2010 and 2011.
Now, years later, both men have watched as the Taliban has taken control of the country where US servicemembers sacrificed so much to bring peace and democracy.
As images continued to come in on Monday showing the evacuation of American personnel and chaotic scenes of Afghanis desperately trying to board departing planes, Porter offered a glimpse into the mind of a veteran who experienced the conflict in the country.
"It’s very tragic to see these developments occurring. It’s angering. It’s frustrating," said Porter, who now serves as executive vice president of government affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "I never thought we’d leave in such an embarrassing manner.”
Like many around the world, Porter followed developments on the collapse of the Afghanistan military and government.
He disagreed with the decision made by President Donald Trump and carried out by President Joe Biden to withdraw troops from the country and believed a few thousand troops could have stayed to provide a stabilizing presence.
However, with two decades of hard work and sacrifice now washed away, Porter felt saddened about the legacy left for families who experienced tragedy during the war.
"We’re going to have a region that doesn’t have that human intelligence and it means we’re going to be flying blind in that region," he said. "I hate that military families and Gold Star families that have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those that have served over and over again over the 20 years to see this be their legacy.”
For Siemietkowski, seeing the recent fallout in the country meant seeing familiar sites in the middle of panic and uncertainty.
"Having been there and recognizing the scenes, it’s really hard to watch," he said on Monday. "Just knowing exactly where these helicopters are and being familiar with the airport, it’s more real and more visceral and harder to watch.”
Like Porter, Siemietkowski believed the US should have kept a military presence in Afghanistan. By doing so, he thought the chaos seen over the last few days would have been avoided.
Now, he hopes the Taliban carries through on its promises by respecting women's rights and offering a safe environment for others.
After living and serving in the country, Siemietkowski said many families in Afghanistan want the same things that Americans do.
"They just wanted to go out to dinner with their family on a Monday night or Tuesday night or take a picnic lunch to a city park on a Saturday and not worry about some car bomb going off," he said.
Moving forward, both veterans hoped more answers would come from the Biden administration about the withdrawal.
"So many questions are out there. We need answers from the president and Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State on this," Porter said. "It didn’t have to happen this way. Things shouldn’t look the way they look right now.”
"It's shocking and gut-wrenching," added Siemietkowski. "Even if you didn’t know people there or weren’t familiar with the place, you have to feel for the people.”
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