FOB SHARANA, Afghanistan – For years, perhaps decades, after the last U.S. soldier leaves Afghanistan, military leaders and politicos, analysts and historians will spend countless hours attempting to calculate the cost of the war here in Afghanistan, in terms of blood and treasure measured against the gains achieved in our battle against deadly extremism.
What conclusions they will reach are, at this point, anyone’s guess. But for the men and women who have been deployed here the calculations have already begun, especially in terms comrades killed or wounded in action.
For the 203rd Engineer Battalion, whose route clearance mission is among the most hazardous in theater, the costs may not have been higher than expected, given the unit’s primary mission of finding and disposing of improvised explosive devices. But it has certainly been higher than members wanted to pay.
Comprised primarily of Army National Guard units from Missouri, South Dakota and Georgia, and augmented with active-duty Army units from Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Drum, N.Y., the 203rd has suffered some two dozen casualties, with three members killed in action since the battalion hit the ground running in early November.
Each time a wounded member was placed on a dust-off medevac chopper; each time “Taps” was played at a fallen member’s farewell ceremony; and each time we reflected on the toll our mission was taking on our personnel and machines our citizen soldiers, no doubt, reevaluated their roles in the ongoing battle against a tenacious and resourceful enemy.
Only they can say what lessons they have personally drawn, but for me, the answers are as simple as they are excruciating.
All political posturing aside, like most Americans of this era I still vividly remember watching in horror, then anger, as the twin World Trade Center towers crumbled and as the Pentagon burned and smoldered, after both sites were hit with suicide bombers flying fuel-laden civilian aircraft.
I remember thinking about the victims of this initial strike, their families and friends, and wondering how anyone could endure such a monumental loss. And I remember wondering, “How will we respond? Will we, as a nation, step up and face this blatant challenge to our freedom?”
Now, several years later, after our battalion and those we are fighting with have suffered similar loss, finally I know that feeling first-hand. And it is painful, to say the least.
But I also have witnessed the revival of the American spirit, manifested daily in the actions of the men and women of the U.S. military, each of whom has taken responsibility for ensuring the preservation of our liberty, regardless of the personal sacrifices or even the ultimate sacrifice.
Such is the cost of war and, indeed, such is the cost of freedom. Yet the covenant to protect our liberties at all costs was made long ago, by wise and brave men.
At our nation’s founding more than 234 years ago, the popular question of the day became, “What price, freedom?”
Perhaps it was best answered by John Adams, our second president (1797-1801), at the outset of our War of Independence: “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth all the means. This is our day of deliverance.”
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) In remembrance of Sgt. Denis Kisselhoff, 1141st Engineer Co. (sappers), Missouri Army National Guard; Sgt. David Holmes, 810th Engineer Co. (sappers), Georgia Army National Guard; and Sgt. Robert Crow, Jr., Headquarters and Headquarters Co., Missouri Army National Guard, attached to the 211th Engineer Co. (sappers), South Dakota Army National Guard.