Something that may or may not be common knowledge about my family is that my father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer two years ago.
He retired from the Army after 20 years of service. Most of his time in active duty was served in the Middle East, including Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Operation Enduring Freedom. His doctors are over 70% certain that his cancer is the result of his time working at military burn pits.
His brain cancer diagnosis is terminal. The average life expectancy after a diagnosis of this type of cancer is about six months. We have been very lucky in beating the odds with over two years, but we know that our luck won’t last.
His diagnosis brought up conversations and feelings about his involvement in the military. For a while I had a hard time reconciling my anger at the military for putting him in the situation that caused his cancer with being able to support, honor and care for veterans. Much like the difficulties many faced after the Vietnam War.
The military withdrawal in Afghanistan has been something that has brought up other big conversations in our house.
For my entire life, there has been a United States military presence at some location or another in the Middle East. A withdrawal was not something I ever expected to see and it has brought up so many truly mixed emotions in our family.
With my history degree I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the Afghanistan withdrawal and those final airlifts in Vietnam. I know that boiling any war down to a singular cause is not going to be easy or accurate, but I can’t truly remember the reason for our involvement in the Middle East in the first place.
Yes, the September 11 attacks were terrible. I remember watching the news as a fourth grader while the Twin Towers came down. What I think people tend to forget, is that we have been involved in military action in the Middle East longer than the 20 years since September 11. Desert Storm and Desert Shield were in the 1990s nearly a decade before those attacks. Years even before I was born.
The biggest and most difficult conversation in our house about Afghanistan has been how we each feel about the military withdrawal. Just as I imagine it has been in other households with veterans.
All I can keep thinking is that in one of those locations, on one of those military bases, during one of those campaigns...my dad got cancer. I know that he isn’t the only one and I can’t help feeling angry that he was sent there in the first place. That anger is tempered with pride in his service and sacrifice, but that anger is not something that will go away any time soon.
Alanea White is the editor of the Moose Lake Star-Gazette. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org