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Once more unto the breach

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

– Henry V, Act III, Scene I

There is nothing there worth even one more American life.

I’m sure some if not all of those who advised President Trump to send more troops to Afghanistan have read these words, and consciously or unconsciously had them in their heads when they did so. It’s a great line. A warrior king, rallying his men for war.

The only problem is, Henry V actually led his troops into battle. He didn’t send them halfway around the world to do it on his behalf without ever having been to war himself. President Bush served in the military but never went to war. Presidents Obama and Trump have never served in the military. All 3 of them have now gotten us into or continued us along the path of a protracted ground war with an objective that is not obtainable.

How do you know?” some might ask. Fair question. I spent a year there as commander of a forward surgical team, like a modern day MASH unit. We cared for not only wounded US and NATO troops, but also for Afghan military and police forces, civilians, and even a fair number of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. I got to spend a lot of time with local politicians, ordinary citizens, military officers, and the enemy. From all of these experiences I can give you my take:

There is nothing there worth even one more American life.

After the horror of September 11, 2001, we had every right to take out the Al Qaeda terror camps that littered Afghanistan. We certainly had every right to topple the evil Taliban regime that supported them. However, right from the start, we made it clear we weren’t going to fight total war, but rather the kind of “winning hearts and minds” campaign that failed so miserably in Vietnam. I’m here to tell you, there is no way to win hearts and minds over there.

I’ll give you an example:

At one point we got a patient, a local boy of about 12 who had been shot by our troops. Why had he been shot? He was planting a roadside bomb. His grandfather was brought to our Forward Operating Base (FOB) to see him while my surgeons and nurses worked on him. It was just a flesh wound and we kept him overnight. We told the grandfather we’d bring him back the next day before we moved the boy to Bagram Air Base to be turned over to Afghan authorities. One of my Soldiers and a translator escorted him off the FOB.

When they returned they gave me a disturbing report. The grandfather had been counting his paces on the way out. He wanted to know the distance from the FOB gate to our facility. Yes. I was angry. We were taking care of the enemy, something they would never do, even nice enough to let the grandfather see his grandson, and by way of thanks he was lining us up for a mortar attack. I had no real concerns it would actually harm us. Anyone who served in Afghanistan knows the safest place to be is where the enemy is aiming. The point is that their mentality is so warped that we can’t ever win hearts and minds over there.

Here’s another:

Special Ops never gave us more than 2 minutes warning when they were coming in with a patient. That made things difficult in the middle of the night when you have to wake your team. One night they brought in a 15-month-old girl. She had been shot laterally through the chest. She was dead. We knew it. We worked on her anyway. When my docs finally called it, one of my nurses wrapped her in a blanket and laid her in her mother’s arms.

Her mother was escorted by a neighbor they had to collect because Allah forbid she get her daughter emergency medical treatment without a male escort. As soon as the baby was laid in the mother’s arms, both she and the neighbor started speaking to us about monetary compensation. I stared at the ground, not trusting myself to speak. I could feel 3 pairs of eyes boring into the back of my head. I glanced back and confirmed my 3 surgeons were staring at me in shock. I looked at the ODA operator who had brought them in and asked, “Did you find whatever it was you were looking for?” He just nodded. Good. I was done with that conversation.

We seem to think if we just hold out long enough they will come around to our way of thinking. It’s not going to happen. Most 3rd world nations in general and Afghanistan in particular are never going to be ready to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. The sooner we get that through our heads, the better off we all will be.

We definitely need to keep terrorist bases from forming, but we can do that without large numbers of troops on the ground. Troops on the grounds are targets the enemy can actually get to and kill. Fighters and bombers at 30,000 feet are not, at least in Afghanistan.

I personally carried my fair share of dead American Soliders, and they were always 19 years old it seemed, not even old enough to buy a beer most places in the US. Those people over there are not worth it. I’ve actually been there, which is more than many of the hawks in the GOP can say.

We’ve been there for TWO 2-term Presidents and are now on President number 3. If we haven’t finished what we need to do by now we never will. It’s quicksand, and so enough is enough. Some have already argued that “we have to finish the job.” I ask, “for how long? Another five years? Ten? FIFTY?!”

And so you see, when fools like Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are thinking “Once more unto the breach” I’m actually thinking of a line from that same play, but from Act IV, Scene I:

“..If these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king, who led them to it….”

Benjamin Wilhelm served as a commissioned officer in the United States military for 10 years, serving one combat tour in Afghanistan. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge among other military awards. Ben has worked in a variety of private sector businesses both large and small. He is a former military and civilian firearms instructor and an advocate for veterans issues. Ben is a strict Constitutionalist who sees the Federal government as an out of control leviathan, and the federal debt as a burden that will break the country. Ben is a divorced father of two boys.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. renadee

    August 22, 2017 at 8:00 am

    This story proves just how out of touch our so called leaders are. Our generals should know but they just want to be generals. Not sure how much they care when that 19 year old goes home in a flag draped casket.

  2. drewb04

    August 22, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    I’m with you enough is enough we have done all we can this nation building has to stop.

  3. Jon

    August 22, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Excellent article! I honestly think that Hillary Clinton or Jen Bush could have given this speech. However, this is not the message Trump gave on the campaign trail. I feel that after 16 years of the same war we surely ought to have learned something that would lead us to a different approach. I want Trump to clearly explain why it is necessary for us to be there. I would like Trump to define clear and concise objectives. I would like the Commander in Chief to tell the American people in uncertain terms exactly what victory looks like. We deserve to know these things if we are expected to send our sons and daughters into harms way.

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