WASHINGTON, D.C. — Years of dirt and sun-bleached colors bear testament to the time Jen Burch served in Afghanistan.
Her decade-old Air Force cap is a reminder of the marathon war and the people left behind.
“There’s not a day that hasn’t gone by in the last 10 years that I haven’t thought about Afghanistan and the people there,” Burch said.
Burch is an Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2010 and 11. She was a volunteer medic treating both Americans and Afghans.
“It changed me,” Burch said. “It opened my eyes to what death is.”
Outside on a blistering hot day by Capitol Hill, Spectrum News spoke with Burch and two other people who’ve witnessed too much pain.
Travis Horr is a Marine veteran who spent a year in Afghanistan and Kenneth Lyles is a former military policeman who deployed out of Camp Lejeune and spent two tours in the country.
All of them said what happened on 9/11 influenced their decision to join the military. But when they were there, around the second decade of the war, they discovered a mission without a direction.
“We went in there with a purpose. We might have overstayed our welcome a little bit, and that purpose might have gotten muddled at some point,” Horr said.
Horr said the purpose became unclear after the United States killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
“It made sense to pull out then,” Horr said.
“We could have done a lot more, in less time, with less money spent, with less lives lost,” Lyles said.
While these veterans support leaving Afghanistan today, they know the consequences will be great.
Just hours after our conversation, the Pentagon announced it would send thousands of troops to help evacuate some people from the U.S. embassy.
The decision followed the Taliban seizing cities across Afghanistan this month.
“I’m not surprised by that… you cannot change a populace that doesn’t want to be changed…The word Democracy isn’t something that I think they’re ever going to, you know, really take hold of.” Lyles said. “Maybe we could have established some sort of permanent residency to try and stabilize things.”
While the threat of an insurgence of terrorism is a concern by some in America, Burch said don’t forget about the people living in Afghanistan.
“There are good people in Afghanistan. Most of them are good people and they want a better life, and you can only hope for the best for them,” Burch said.
These veterans don’t regret their time overseas, but the time served weighs heavily.
“I’ve shed tears over the last week about this, thinking about it all,” Burch said.
Burch may not wear her military hat anymore but for years, until it broke, she wore a bracelet given to her by an Afghan girl. On the bracelet is a lotus flower, signaling hope for the future.
“This war isn’t going to be won with a bullet, but with a pen. And until you educate the people of Afghanistan, especially educating these young girls, I don’t think you’re going to see any change,” Burch said. “Those kids are so resilient and filled with so much hope, and you just hope that they take that back and remember that and will be the future of Afghanistan.”
A war that no longer lives on in name but is carried on the shoulders of millions of Afghans and thousands of American veterans.