If you’ve seen any news this week, I don’t have to tell you what is happening in Afghanistan, especially since I don’t really know. Anything I might say would be based on the most superficial information there is. The only people who really know are the ones who are there.
But we have all seen the photographs. We have all watched the videos. For most of us, in our comfortable lives, that is enough.
The sight of those people, captured in photos, their mouths open in silent, frozen screams.
The sound of those videos. The frantic, high-pitched keening of hundreds, thousands, of desperate people running for their lives. Driven to leave their own homeland. The country many of them have been working so hard for so many years to make better. To make freer. To build into the home they want and deserve.
But this week, I also saw something most of you did not. I heard things most of us never hear as we go about our comfortable lives.
Because the exact week Afghanistan fell, our son-in-law graduated from Air Assault School at Fort Campbell.
Twenty years ago this September 11, Tavis was eleven years old. Our own son was seven, our daughters, thirteen, eleven, ten, and five. An entire nation of children remember that day. They always will.
As horrific as it was for every child, for some, that day held the certain, unshakeable knowledge that their parents would be deployed. While Tavis sat in a sixth grade classroom in Jacksonville, Illinois, the public school-issue television turned to coverage of what would forever change our lives, that was the only thing in his mind.
And he was right. His father, Colonel David Ciochetty, left some six months later, for Afghanistan, on his seventh deployment.
Three weeks after his first child was born and seventeen years after 9/11, Tavis commissioned into the U.S. Army. We celebrated his service. Helped them pack. Watched them move. Then helped them move back, this time to Fort Campbell.
I braced myself. “We’re in the real Army now,” I couldn’t help but think.
This week slammed up against just how real it is, when we stood with our daughter and his parents to watch him become officially Air Assault qualified, only hours after completing his pre-dawn, twelve-mile ruck march with a forty pound pack.
We stood and watched while our granddaughter held her hand over her little heart during the National Anthem.
We stood and watched while Black Hawk helicopters flew overhead, not as a special tribute, but as matter of mere routine. Training for what we always seem to ask them to do.
We stood and listened while hundreds of rounds of ammunition were discharged all around us. Again, no tribute. Simply men and women at work, preparing for what apparently, given human nature, is the inevitable.
We stood and watched, while Afghanistan fell. While at the exact same moment, our soldiers prepared themselves to go wherever we ask, whenever we need.
The words our then-eight year old son wrote all those years ago after 9/11 hold true today. And they always will.
But as much as we thank them, all of them, for their service, and pray for their safe return, even more I challenge every single one of us to pay attention.
When the men and women in D.C. power suits make decisions in air conditioned rooms, it is beholden on us, the people who put them in those seats of authority, to make sure they are measured, controlled, and most of all, that they are motivated by unselfish, apolitical aims.
It is beholden on us, because we are beholden to them.