Back in the 90’s, I recall folks, pundits and the like, asking of the kids of the time would step up the way prior generations did in WW II and even in the Viet Nam War. Folks doubted the kids, spoiled it seemed, would step up. I was in the Texas National Guard at the time and had no doubts they would step up. America’s youth was already participating and sacrificing for their part-time job in the armed forces. Starting in 2001, those kids, born in the 1980’s and 90’s stepped up in a big way. They are still stepping up. I was Battalion Commander of a drill Sergeant unit in 2006 and 2007. The Drill Sergeants scaled back their harassment during the two wars. The Sergeants felt that folks who enlisted voluntarily derived some extra respect. They did deserve some extra respect.
In a dusty Kabul airport, 11 Marines, one soldier and one Navy Corpsman were blown to bits by a fanatic suicide bomber. Those kids were as young as the war itself. LCPL Rylee McCollum was 20 years old. Two Marines in their dress uniform knocked on the door of LCPL McCollum’s parents at 0330 in the morning to tell them about their son. That dreaded knock.
Maxton Soviak grew up in northern Ohio playing football. His sister, Marilyn, said his death left a Maxton sized hole in the lives of those who knew him. Maxton was a Corpsman, or Navy medic. He graduated from high school in 2017. His football coach said everyone looked to Maxton in tough situations. He was passionate, energetic. He held nothing back.
Nicole Gee was promoted to Sergeant 24 days before her last day in uniform. Just days before that last day, she posted a picture of herself holding an Afghan baby. She said, “I love my job.” She was at the airport, escorting women and children to freedom and safety, when she was killed.
One in Ten
These were America’s best. Only one in ten kids qualifies for the Army. And, once they are in, they are scrutinized, harassed and pressed over and over. These boys and girls become young men and women within days, weeks.
The mission at the Kabul airport is to process Americans and Afghans. For the first time in over a decade, soldiers must now get on the ground, out of our armored vehicles and talk face-to-face with Afghans and possible terrorists. The soldiers can feel the breath of the folks they are talking to. Thirteen died. More were wounded. But, the mission continues. Those young, brave boys must still face the elephant. The CENTCOM commander, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie says in the end, “there’s no substitute for a young man or woman standing up there conducting a search of that person before we let him in” [to the airport]. The next day after the blast, other young Marines, soldiers and Corpsmen were back at it, searching and escorting.
War has not changed. There is never a substitute for a young man or woman who is willing to stand up there doing their duty. Thank God we still have young men and women who believe our country is worth that devotion. Let us hope that we continue to be worthy of their devotion.