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"It's a failure on all fronts:" Local veterans react to Afghanistan exit

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Posted at 7:52 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 14:39:04-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — America's longest war is over, but the decision to pull troops out continues to weigh on the minds of many local veterans.

"I just don't understand why we pulled out the way we did, and it just doesn't make sense, and it just makes me so angry," said Ryan Hemhauser, Founder of Disgruntled Vets and Afghanistan veteran.

For Ryan Hemhauser, he didn't expect U.S. forces to withdrawal in such a chaotic way.

"I thought we were going to leave with dignity. We've been prepping to leave since 2013, that was my job to deconstruct Afghanistan. To watch what happened there unfold just breaks my heart," said Hemhauser. "I didn't expect to leave that way, and it just feels like all of the sacrifice that everyone put in, you know between losing friends over there to then losing friends over here to veteran suicide, reliving the horrors they went through over there."

As the turmoil continues in the country, it can't help but bring on so many emotions.

"Watching these people go through the horrors we were protecting them from is heartbreaking. In my opinion, it is a failure on all fronts, the United States, the Afghanistan Government. It's just heartbreaking watching all of these stories come out about the deaths of singers and comedians. We instilled an American Dream there, and to see it crumble so fast, it makes me ask why we stayed that long if we were going to let it go," said Hemhauser.

Other veterans say the withdrawal is long overdue.

"I'm glad we are out, it's about time. I don't think the plan that we had to be there was thorough, we clearly didn't have an exit plan, and anytime a plan involves occupation it doesn't end well. We went there in the beginning for a specific purpose, one that wasn't never going to be accomplished because of the enemy that we were facing," said Jeff Kemp, Army veteran.

Kemp says terrorism needed to be stomped out, but there wasn't an ideal way for U.S. forces to do it.

"They fight differently than we do, and to get into the mud is what you have to but it's messy and there is a toll and it costs a lot," said Kemp.

Kemp says staying in the country wasn't worth more lives, trillions of more dollars, and another war.

"For the veterans who are upset, yes we are upset because our treasure and the things we were asked to do was for what purpose?" said Kemp.

The decision to withdraw troops is causing some veterans to struggle.

"There are a lot of people hurting right now. Either anger, confusion, pain, and just the question of why. There were a lot of tears that night, and our inbox has been flooded with people contacting us in distress or family members in distress," said Hemhauser.

"Some may think that the outcome or the ending wasn't what they had hoped for. That when they had served, deployed, sacrificed their lives, time with family that there would be a more positive
outcome or permanent change," said Kristen Belaire, Mental/Behavioral Health Program Manager at Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center.

She says the particular outcome of the Afghanistan war might feel defeating, confusing, and frustrating for some veterans, and it's important for loved ones to be understanding and supportive.

"Allowing them a place to just process and sharing what they are thinking and feeling. It's not about judging, getting into a political argument with them, or trying to help them think differently. It's more about allowing them to process," said Belaire.

Belaire says it may be time to seek help if the feelings inhibit daily life, the ability to connect with loved ones or garnish suicidal thoughts.

"What I love about our Colorado Springs community is that we really are passionate about serving and supporting our military and their families. We have numerous resources throughout the community, one being Mt Carmel. I would encourage anybody to reach out to Mt. Carmel or other agencies that are there to support you. I would also encourage looking for culturally competent and military-informed providers because part of this journey and processing what is happening is going to be directly connected with your military service and the sacrifices that you felt. Sitting across someone who can understand that is very important," said Belaire.

She says there are many benefits of engaging in mental health/behavioral services.

"It increases our ability to connect, and that is connecting with ourselves and loved ones. It's enhancing a sense of a life fulfilled, instead of a life of suffering or struggles. It is an opportunity to find a life of joy and fulfillment instead of feeling like you're lacking," said Belaire. "If you ever feel yourself in a drop-in group, therapist, or agency and you feel like it is not a good fit for you. Don't give up, there are a lot of other providers here and the hearts are to serve and give back."

"Take the time to be mad, be angry, get pissed off but don't do anything dumb. Don't hurt yourself, find other people to be mad with, shake your fists at God he is big enough and can handle it. Think about what you are thinking so you can articulate that so the next generation doesn't forget," said Kemp.

"The most dangerous thing you can do is try to hide from this and stay inside in your house by yourself," said Hemhauser.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs Colorado Springs Vet Center (3920 N Union Blvd) is hosting a drop-in group on Saturday from 9 am-10:30 am for veterans struggling with the events in Afghanistan. For more information on resources, click here.

For those veterans who are looking for someone to talk to, there is an app known as Objective Zero that connects veterans to other vets.

Join us on News5 from 4-7pm tonight, September 1 as we bring you special coverage from Fort Carson and Mt. Carmel Veteran Service Center in Colorado Springs.

You can watch using our KOAA News5 streaming channel, available on your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV or Android TV.

KOAA News5 has more resources as You Are Not Alone in this effort. We've compiled resources for help locally in-person, on the phone, chat and more.