Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
DRAPER — The Utah National Guard is reaching out to active and retired service members who may have served in Afghanistan to provide resources and support for them as reports of the Taliban's takeover of the country continue.
Maj. Gen. Michael Turley and Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer Nielsen posted a letter across social media platforms in an attempt to reach members and connect them with help.
"When we started witnessing the news coming out of Afghanistan we knew right away ... that a lot of service members may be feeling a variety of complex emotions. So we felt like it was important to acknowledge that and to get ahead of it and to definitely acknowledge and then reaffirm what we were doing in Afghanistan in the beginning and then definitely to provide resources to our service members," said Lt. Col. Jaime Thomas, a Utah National Guard Public Affairs officer.
The reactions of current and retired members have really varied amid the unfolding events, said Ken Francis, a licensed social worker with the National Guard.
"I have some that are feeling very upset and using strong words such as feeling betrayed. I've had conversations with other veterans who acknowledge the fact that there probably was no really good way to get out of Afghanistan and seem to be kind of understanding and recognizing that this was going to be difficult, no matter what ended up happening," Francis said.
To cope with those complex emotions, the commanders recommend the following advice:
- Reach out to your wingman/battle buddy and support each other.
- Engage in positive activities that are healthy, meaningful and of service.
- Limit media exposure if it triggers distress.
- Avoid ineffective coping methods, such as excessive alcohol use.
"We've seen that sometimes the best, most effective communication happens from one veteran to another, as they're able to relate to each other's experiences or maybe they even served with one another, and able to talk about and process the feelings that they have about this withdrawal," Francis said.
He continued, "They need a way to talk about their feelings and be able to reach out and connect with people that can understand and hear them out, and not to judge them or to criticize them but to continue to support them and reassure them that their service was not in vain and it was very worthwhile."
The letter asserts that while a different outcome would have been preferred, the primary mission and focus of the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan was to keep America safe and prevent another terrorist attack on American soil. The letter asserts that that mission was successful and faithful in that duty.
They need a way to talk about their feelings and be able to reach out and connect with people that can understand and hear them out, and not to judge them or to criticize them but to continue to support them and reassure them that their service was not in vain and it was very worthwhile.
–Ken Francis, licensed social worker with the National Guard
The sentiment of the letter was repeated by Thomas.
"We're going to need some time to reconcile those emotions but a reminder to our service members that the past 20 years, they have made a lot of sacrifices, but those have been for the better of the United States. We went over there to make sure that we were never attacked on U.S. soil again, that we preserved our way of life, that we preserved freedom, and we are trying to remind our service members to hold onto their service as they will have emerged as a beacon of hope like the letter says," Thomas said.
The speed at which the Taliban took over the county and the events following stunned many across the world. Although there were plans regarding the U.S. withdrawal, Thomas said the events amid that withdrawal were unexpected for many.
"I mean to say unprecedented, I would leave that to the historians and those who will look at this after all these events have unfolded for that analysis, but what I would say is that it was definitely unexpected for a lot of military members and to see things unfold the way that they did in Afghanistan and as quickly as we have," she said.
Other resources outlined in the letter include:
- Vets 4 Warriors, nonprofit Veteran support hotline: 855-838-8255, www.vets4warriors.com
- Utah National Guard Safety App: download the Safe UTNG app to your mobile device
- Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255