Feb 16 , 2022
Unwilling to let their Afghan allies flounder, numerous veteran volunteers have created evacuation organizations. They are supporting tens of thousands of Afghans who are stricken with poverty and famine — allies facing an enemy hellbent on capturing, torturing, and in some cases killing them.
16 largely veteran-run evacuation organizations have joined to form the Moral Compass Federation. They are also working to shine a light on and combat moral injury brought on by six months of making life-and-death decisions. This burden has been heavy. Duke, a former recon platoon sergeant and volunteer with Operation North Star, told the Washington Examiner, "I try to explain it to my family. How was [my] day? I got to decide who we made safe today, and who we didn’t"
Ben Owen, a former U.S. Army infantryman and the president of Flanders Fields, told the Washington Examiner about an occasion just after the withdrawal when he had to decide whether a group of widows and female soldiers or a tribal elder and his two Special Immigrant Visa applicant sons would receive the organization’s newest safe house. Within six hours of placing the women and children in the house, Owen learned that the Taliban had captured and killed the tribal elder. Though the family said their father would have agreed with Owen’s decision to place the women in the safe house, "it still [expletive] sucked."
Volunteers share hardships with Afghans, providing mental health support and coordinating safe houses and food drops. When the Taliban conduct searches in the vicinity of their safe houses, "we’re there with them on the phone," Duke explained. Volunteers talk through security procedures, listening for a knock on the door. "'Just sanitize.' Now, that’s all we say because we’ve been through this so many times," Duke said.
Veterans working with the Moral Compass Federation’s evacuation groups have taken on a burden that the U.S. government passed off. The large financial and emotional toll of providing support, mental assistance, food, safety, and solace for our desperate allies has gone unnoticed by senior U.S. leaders.
Daniel Elkins, CEO of the Special Operations Association of America, served in Afghanistan in 2016 and 2017. He told the Washington Examiner that he would "love to see the [Biden] administration or Congress thank these veterans and service members for their assistance."
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area.