Combat Veteran on Afghanistan: ‘It Really Shakes Your Soul and It Makes You Ask That Question: Was It Worth It?’

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Don Bentley talks about the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan after the grossly mishandled withdrawal of American troops from the country.

Don Bentley, author of Without Sanction and The Outside Man

Bentley is an Afghanistan combat veteran and a retired Army Apache helicopter pilot. For his service, he was awarded the Air Medal with “V” device for valor, the Combat Action Badge and the Bronze Star Medal. Following his military service, Bentley worked as an FBI Special Agent and as a SWAT team member. He is the author of the Matt Drake trilogy and the New York Times bestselling author of “Target Acquired: A Jack Ryan, Jr. Novel,” continuing the story set in motion by the late Tom Clancy.

You recently wrote an op-ed titled “Was It Worth It?” in response to the troop withdrawal and ensuing crisis in Afghanistan. I know you wrote that from a perspective of someone who’s been there. Did you arrive at an answer to your question?

I was an Apache pilot in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2006. I flew into the Kabul airport hundreds of times, and so I know that area very, very well. To see what was happening there, to see Afghans who would rather try and hang on to the landing gear of a C-17 — probably knowing that it’s certain death — rather than face the Taliban, to see mothers take their children and hand them off to strangers rather than face the Taliban, it just rips something inside of me. And when you see it fall apart, when you see what’s happening there right now, it really shakes your soul and it makes you ask that question: Was it worth it? 

My oldest son is a sophomore in college. He wants to be a Marine officer when he graduates. As a father looking at a generational war thinking, “My son, who was born after Sept. 11, could potentially go back to Afghanistan,” you start seeing things in a completely different light and saying, “Was it worth it?” It’s hard to answer that question right now, especially with everything falling down around us. Was the original push into Afghanistan worth it? Absolutely. Do I think that the people who sacrificed their blood did so in vain? No, I absolutely don’t think they did. 

But I can’t help but look at what’s happening now and think, “You know what? We were the ones who deployed to Afghanistan.” About 800,000 people deployed to Afghanistan. We live in a nation of 330 million. That’s less than a quarter of a percent that bore that weight for 20 years, often multiple tours of duty while doing it. Those of us that did that were owed a better outcome than this. We were owed a better outcome than watching people fall off C-17s as they flew out of the Kabul airport. 
So was it worth it? I hope so. 

What would you want to hear military or political leaders say to those who have lost family or friends? 

What we have right now is not a failure of military capability but a failure of political will. I wish our political leaders would understand that Americans don’t sign up to join the military to be safe. They sign up to do a job. And putting them in Afghanistan in harm’s way is what they signed up to do if they’re going out to do their mission. If our political leadership would be decisive and have our folks go out and do what they would do, Americans would back that because we don’t leave people behind. 
That is the solemn vow that America makes to its sons and daughters that go into harm’s way: We will not leave you behind. That applies to our civilians, to the Afghans that stood up and are now being hunted down for the sole crime of helping Americans. To think that we would leave our own countrymen and women or those people who bled on our behalf behind is just disgraceful.

On Sept. 1, you called people to prayer via Facebook. You kept it very simple and focused on the Lord’s Prayer. Why did you choose to focus on the Lord’s Prayer?

I chose the Lord’s Prayer for a couple of different reasons. Number one, I wanted people to feel like wherever they were, no matter where they were on their faith journey, no matter what their faith tradition is like, that they could take part in this. I love the Lord’s Prayer because even Jesus’s disciples struggled with how to pray and what to say, and when they asked him, “How do we pray?” he gave them this very simple prayer, almost a poem: the Lord’s Prayer. When I do my devotions every morning, a lot of times I’ll start with that. When I’m at a point in my life where I don’t know what to say, when I don’t have the words to convey what’s going on in my heart, I often default to the Lord’s Prayer. 

We’re helpless in that we’re not in Afghanistan, but there’s something that we can do: pray. It doesn’t depend in that moment in time on a faith tradition, on a political leaning, just a reflection that, as Americans, we know that we have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters who are in harm’s way. And 13 families just became Gold Star families. That’s why I did it.

My Faith Votes is a nonpartisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election, transforming our communities and influencing our nation with biblical truth. By partnering with national faith leaders, My Faith Votes provides resources to help Christians Pray, Think, and Act to create an America where God is honored in the public square.

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