Well, what a few months this has been for Australian Veterans of Afghanistan and their families.
It is difficult to read about the transpiring situation in Afghanistan and the plight of the civilians. While there has been much talk of the removal of troops, I have heard little directed toward those whose souls burnt out in Afghanistan, whose blood, sweat, and tears stain its sands. I have heard little directed towards those families whom the war left behind in its wake. I have heard little directed toward those that carry the burdens of that war who are left now questioning the meaningfulness of that service, of their work, of their legacy. We always tend to forget the people when it is over. So, I thought I would have a turn and talk directly to what is missing in everything we are hearing.
First and foremost, everyone who served in Afghanistan did our country proud. The Australian public knows full well that our Defence Forces have a history of being called to the wars of other nations. You knew that too, yet you still signed up and you still devoted your life to the cause. For that you did us proud. Here are other reasons you did us proud:
- Girls who are now women are educated
- Civilians experienced a life free of the Taliban
- Civilians gained skills they never had before
- You helped them sleep, you kept them safe, you grew their resolve.
You gave the people, the women in particular, a gift – the gift of knowledge and experience. It is difficult right now to see the fruit from the trees, but it is there. Have faith in what you did, have faith in yourself, and with time, you will see the flower grow, you will see that fruit.
You gave the civilians what they needed to stand or to make a new life elsewhere. You have gifted them a life they may not have otherwise had.
Australians know what you did, we are proud of what you did. We know that for their tomorrow and our tomorrow, you sacrificed yours. Some sacrificed their lives, some sacrificed seeing their children born, some sacrificed seeing their children grow, some sacrificed their relationships, some sacrificed their safety and bodies, some sacrificed their mind and their soul. Debts that cannot be repaid – ever.
For those left behind, carrying scars of that war, be them your own or your loved ones’ – I want you to also know your sacrifices matter. Australia knows a lot less about your sacrifices, the long nights, the fear, the nightmare, and chaos that ensues when the fear comes true, the loss of words, the deep sadness, the uncertainty, the yearning to support your children and your loved one forgetting yourself in the process, the questioning, the doubts…not knowing how to answer questions from your children or your loved one asking why. Not knowing how to soothe wounds that reach the soul.
I want you to know that I see you, I hear you and we are in this together. I want you to know that everything I wrote earlier applies to you too. I want you to know that I will make sure Australia does not forget you, that it knows your story and that while many of your loved ones have now finished serving, your service has started.
Your loved ones gifted women, children, and innocent civilians a gift you cannot see, but it is a gift we exercise every day. That gift is worth everything. That gift is Choice.
If you or your loved one has been impacted by the events in Afghanistan over the last few days, if you are worried about how you are feeling, or they are feeling, if you are worried about what you are saying or what they are saying about their service, if you are not sure how to feel, please reach out. Reach out to a mate, to a friend, to your family, to me, to us, to the RSL, to Legacy, to Soldier On, to Mates4Mates, to Open Arms, to your GP. We are all here to catch you and help you rise again.
Renee is the Spouse of Gary Wilson, an Army Veteran who was wounded during the Afghanistan War. She is also the CEO of Australian War Widows NSW Ltd. An inclusive non-for-profit organisation that supports women and families impacted by Defence Service.