I was with my Green Beret unit on a combat operation in Afghanistan when I rounded a corner and was hit with what felt like a sledgehammer.
An enemy bullet rifled into my abdomen, fracturing my hip, costing me 20 percent of my colon, and leaving me unable to walk because of severe nerve damage. I recovered only after six surgeries, thousands of hours of physical therapy, and an addiction intervention led by my wife. She believed my best years were still to come.
Despite my injuries, I consider myself one of the lucky ones: I came home alive.
Over 2,400 of my brothers and sisters in arms have died in Afghanistan since the fighting began in 2001.
I think about all this amid the growing tensions between the United States and Iran. But I decided to speak up after I heard President Trump’s recent answer when asked if he had an exit strategy for a potential war.
In complete ignorance to the lessons paid for in blood from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, he said, “You’re not going to need an exit strategy. . . . I don’t need exit strategies.”
At worst, this is an admission of malfeasance by our country’s commander in chief. At best, it’s a statement ignoring the lessons of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — something we cannot afford.
Consider this: I was shot in Afghanistan on Sept. 25, 2011. That was 10 years and two weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks. Nearly eight years after my life-altering injuries, we remain in Afghanistan, with no end in sight.
I had no issue with our country avenging a coordinated series of attacks by a group of terrorists rooted in Afghanistan. However, when the invasion began, in October 2001, no one anticipated what the war would become. We’ve now been in Afghanistan nearly 18 years, and 14,000 of our troops remain on the ground, with no end in sight.
The wisdom of launching a war in Iraq two years later will be debated by historians for decades, but like Afghanistan, we remain enmeshed in a second country despite the president’s campaign promise to bring US troops home.
Is our country ready for a third war with an all-volunteer force? Can we ask our troops, the 1 percent of men and women who volunteer to protect our country, to fight on a third front? With no exit strategy, a force made up only of those willing to step forward, and the threat of North Korea looming over our shoulders, is this really sustainable?
Rising suicide rates among veterans — an average of 22 per day — are a sign of the cost of a prolonged war. It would be nearly impossible to assign a dollar amount to the mental and physical toll these wars have taken on our veterans and their families.
Are we ready to pay this price a third time in less than two decades?
After I was shot, I was flown to a military hospital in Germany. When I woke up after four days, I asked someone whether I’d gone to heaven or hell.
When they said, “Neither,” I cried tears of joy because I knew my time in Afghanistan was over.
Despite the years and thousands of miles separating us, I can’t stop thinking about those who remain.
I also think that, given the history of Afghanistan and Iraq, if we engage in a third war with no exit strategy, my three- and five-year-old daughters may find themselves fighting in Iran when they turn 18.
Before we consider military action against Iran, we first need to think about a way out beyond a bullet, a pine box, or a sense of futility.
Kevin Flike works for a cybersecurity firm in Boston.