Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Families to decide if war in Afghanistan was worth it

The letter is not as historically significant as those left behind in Osama bin Laden's Pakistani compound.

It's simply an unadorned note from a departing U.S. soldier, now taped to a page of his father's prayer journal.

Love you daddio!

Happy Father's Day.

I'll see ya in a few months …

Cpl. Frank Gross was leaving his parents' Oldsmar home and preparing for his first combat tour when he left those words on the kitchen table last summer. Barely a month later, the 25-year-old Army gunner was killed by a roadside bomb after volunteering for a mission in the Khost province of Afghanistan.

We have grown accustomed, and perhaps numb, to stories such as this during the past decade. Probably more accustomed, and more numb, than we should.

At least it felt that way when President Barack Obama announced last week that the end of the war was finally in sight. The news seemed almost anticlimactic, as if its impact had been lessened by the number of days it took to get here.

They say it can take years to properly evaluate the impact of a war, but that is not necessarily true. Historians use their own set of criteria. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters have another.

"I've had people ask me if my son died in vain, and I have to bite my tongue and try to be as gracious as I possibly can,'' Frank's father, Craig Gross, said Friday. "Today is 293 days since my son was killed. I count the days. I know the days, I know the hours, I know the minutes. Will I ever get over that? Probably not.

"So when people say to me, 'Did your son die in vain?' or 'I feel like your son died in vain,' or 'Boy, this war is a waste,' I say, 'No. No, no, no.'

"I really believe if my son felt this was an immoral war, or it wasn't right or it wasn't just, he would not have gone. He would not have joined.''

The Vietnam conflict taught this nation a lesson about the lack of respect for soldiers of an unpopular war.

We are more appreciative today. We have an understanding of the dedication, the risks, the sacrifices endured.

Yet America's tolerance for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ended long before the policymakers made it official.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll last month showed just 30 percent of Americans believed the war in Afghanistan was still worth fighting. It's been more than two years since polls showed a majority of people in favor of the war.

This is one reason Don Carey can no longer stomach news about the war.

Almost eight years ago, his son was killed in Iraq, and Carey is disheartened by the political posturing and the debating over something that should mean more.

"If President Obama went to Afghanistan this week to make this all about himself, then that's wrong. And I would say that about the president, about John Boehner or anyone else,'' said Carey, whose son Barton Humlhanz was a corporal in the Marines. "This war isn't about Republicans or Democrats. It's about the soldiers. It's about their mission.

"You know how I would like this war to be remembered? I would be happy if there are people in Iraq whose lives are a little better because of the sacrifices our soldiers made. I would be happy if I knew they appreciated that we tried to make their world a little safer, a little more peaceful, a little easier.''

It's Saturday morning, four days after Obama's speech about the impending end of the war, and a small group of women have gathered at a breakfast cafe in Oldsmar.

They are a combination of Gold Star and Blue Star mothers who have met for several months. The Gold Star mothers have lost a son or daughter in a war. The Blue Star mothers have a child who is either serving or has served.

Donna Kistel's son Michael was in Iraq for 15 months and is now medically retired from the Army. He had a traumatic brain injury and suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder, along with shoulder, neck and arm injuries.

"He was there at a very rough time, and had some very bad things happen to him," Kistel said. "But he was trained to do a job, and he did that job. And for that, I am very proud.

"I would hope other people see it that way. This is an all-volunteer military. No matter how you feel about the war, these soldiers were there fighting for their country.''

The war is near its end, and the historical context will eventually follow. Were we victorious? Was it necessary? Was it worth the pain?

For some, the answers are already clear.

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