Local veterans speak out about serving in Afghanistan

The events of the past week in the Afghanistan area have stirred up emotions for many across the nation, perhaps none as much as those who served there.

Here’s what they had to say about the current state of Afghanistan and the impact the country had on them. Retired U.S. 96th Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Clifton Williams said, “You’ll see pictures of my interpreter having his first child and how happy he is and those kinds of things. You start having these kinds of intimacies with these individuals that you know for a fact you’re leaving. But thing about it is, in the military you always want to leave something better than when you leave.”

Williams served in Afghanistan for 16 months in 2008. Williams knew the U.S. needed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan eventually, just not so quickly and dramatically, leaving some people behind. “The biggest problem is this. When you make personal connections, now you’re like okay now it hits a little bit closer to home. And a lot people think that hey we’re going over there fighting in war. We’re not. We’re literally going over there to make sure people can build up their own capacities to defend themselves.”

After being deployed twice to Afghanistan in 2017, Retired Army Sgt. Major Jeffrey Hulum began his non-profit Extend a Hand, Help a Friend based on what troops were doing in the Middle East. “We need that same energy in America that they had over there. And help build our community, help build our states, help mend the fences and build bridges.”

While the United States’ efforts to equip, train, and mold the Afghans seemed to crumble as the Taliban swept across the nation two weeks before the U.S. was set to complete troop withdrawal, Williams and Hulum don’t consider their time in Afghanistan a failure. “We executed orders in impossible conditions. It’s in my opinion we have to explain to everyone this isn’t our defeat. We went there. We did whatever we could possibly do. We did great things across the board. But here it is 13 years later that I left Afghanistan and I still think about it.”

“I don’t feel like we failed. I feel like we won. We did everything we were supposed to do. We set up a security force. We set up a police force. We alleviated women’s suffering. We got the kids to go to school. We got rid of the most corrupt people in their administrations and their government. What more do you want us to do?”

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