The work I am privileged to do at Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs allows me to see the hearts of tens of thousands of our Military Warriors, understand why they served, and what the cost of freedom means to them. I think it is fair to say that the right to vote and take part in the process of who will be our next President, and who will represent the US Congress and Senate, are rights and privileges we are not only afforded through the sacrifices of our heroes but should feel obligated to participate in.
My view on why voting is such a significant privilege is based on many life experiences, but none more important than the lessons I learned in Afghanistan. November 2nd of 2004 was a life-changing moment for me.
As part of a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan, I was focused on a specific mission. I was excited to serve America, fueled by a passion to retaliate for the attacks on our nation that occurred on September 11th, 2001 when terrorists highjacked commercial planes and flew them into the World Trade Center towers and the U.S. Pentagon-killing thousands of innocent Americans. Like many of us at that time who had not served in combat previously, my mindset was very bravado and naive through patriotic lenses. I gave little thought to a worldview or understanding the impact America has globally.
On November 2, 2004, I had an awakening. The things I witnessed on that day and the following days in Kabul, Afghanistan would change me forever. It wasn’t direct combat that changed me, but rather being allowed to witness the Afghan people on a personal level and seeing life through eyes based on a dark history and deep appreciation for America.
I was invited to the home of a local national who I worked with named Bashir (I’m changing his name for the story). Over the course of a couple of years, Bashir became a trusted teammate and friend. The reason for his invitation to his home on November 2nd was to watch the 2004 Presidential Election unfold. I remember thinking it was strange that he would care, but living like a caveman at the time, food, and seeing the election sounded like a good break from my duties.
A team-member and I went to Bashir’s home and, to our surprise, the house was packed with his family. There were people wall to wall, tons of food in celebration, and every eye was glued to the television in suspense for every update. I thought it was both strange, yet incredible, that they cared so much about the election of the President of the United States of America. In my life, I have never seen a group of Americans this focused on our own election. The atmosphere could only be described as a big Super Bowl Party.
The Afghan’s candidate of choice was President George W. Bush Jr, and when the results rolled in the party erupted with dancing, hugging, laughter and joy. I was blown away by their reaction and, in truth, shared in their excitement. Their joy was based on a continued presence of the US and allied forces that had freed Kabul and many parts of Afghanistan from Taliban rule; they had feared a President Kerry win would have withdrawn forces and allowed the Taliban to regain control. This made sense to me, but I didn’t comprehend the depth of their passion until days later.
Over the next few days, I continued to talk to Bashir about my time at his house and how amazed I was that his family cared so much about the election and who the US President would be. Bashir decided the best way to show me where their passion came from was to take me on a tour of his city. What I was about to witness not only changed my worldview, but also my reason to continue my role to fight for the oppressed people of Afghanistan. It changed my life and heart forever.
The first place Bashir took me was to a four-story apartment building on the eastern side of Kabul, just off the Jalalabad Road entry into the city. The concrete walls of the apartment building were scarred with bullet holes, and the power lines that had once led to the complex to provide electricity had been ripped out by the Taliban regime. Bashir had previously taught English here in secret in the basement of the building.
He told me heartbreaking stories of when the Taliban would come into the building, raiding it like a prison inspection, searching for contraband and violation of their ideological rules and laws. Many of the young girls who had either violated rules or were just targeted as victims would be raped, beaten, and sometimes killed. Bashir showed me the stairwell leading to the roof where he said many girls, including one of his twelve-year-old cousins, had thrown themselves off the fourth story roof to kill themselves over being raped or beaten by the Taliban thugs.
As I thought of these young girls, I couldn’t imagine a fear so deep that would lead you to throw yourself off a four-story roof to your death. The only vivid reminder I can envision was the workers of the World Trade Center buildings choosing to jump to their death rather than burn to death.
Our next visit was to a place I have referred to as a geographic landmark ever since as “The Killing Pool”. Bashir parked at the base of Mahrus Hill on the north side of Kabul, a short hike up to the top of the hill had us standing in front of a full-size Olympic pool with regulation diving platforms. The structure didn’t fit the theme of the third world architecture of Kabul. The pool was actually built in the 1980’s by the Russians for their divers to practice at high altitude. The dark truth is that more killing was done here than diving.
As we approached the pool I couldn’t help but notice a steel cable off the end of the second 7.5-meter diving platform. A hole had been drilled through the concrete to secure the cable and at the end was a slip knot noose that I could only imagine would decapitate someone as it snapped around their neck after falling 25 feet. Bashir said that he had witnessed public executions there when the Taliban would throw men, women, and even children off the top tower onto the empty concrete pool floor.
That wasn’t the worst of what took place here. We climbed down the ladder and into the pool and nothing further needed to be said about the atrocities that took place in The Killing Pool. The deep end of the pool, from sidewall to sidewall, 25 meters, was riddled with 7.62 bullet holes, about the elevation of someone’s head while kneeling, thousands of holes pierced into the walls. On the shallow end of the pool at a lower elevation that would reflect a child, the very same pattern of bullets were riddled into the concrete.
You can’t help but imagine the horror of the moments for those who were murdered and those who watched in agony and fear. I took out a leatherman tool I carried with me that had pointed pliers and dug it into several of the bullet holes removing some of the metal 7.62 jacket remains of bullets that had certainly killed innocent victims out of hate, greed, and a lust for power over the helpless. After that day, I often visited the pool to reflect on what took place there.
In truth, the revelations of these days changed me for both the better and for the worse. The remainder of my time in Afghanistan wasn’t just a patriot service and retaliation for the September 11th attacks on America, but I was fueled with an equal hatred towards the Taliban that I shared with Bashir, his family, and much of the Afghan people. It took me personally down a dark path many military members face after seeing the first-hand atrocities of war.
However, today, I reflect on that time in my life and how it changed me for the better. I bore witness to pain and suffering no human should face. As I walked with them as they struggled and something in my heart broke with a compassion for my fellow human…for a people who truly experienced oppression at the most grotesque level without the ability to defend themselves. Most importantly, I discovered the truth that America does make a difference in this world…and that our role in the world does matter to others.
Regardless of your political position and if you think we did or didn’t belong in Afghanistan, I know that if even one little girl didn’t have to throw herself off the roof of that apartment complex to escape rape and torture that my time there was worth it. If just one family didn’t have to watch their mother be thrown off the 10-meter tower onto the concrete floor of an empty pool like garbage, it was worth it. Or if just one less child had to bravely kneel at the shallow end of The Killing Pool and the very last thing they had to see was a monster with an AK-47 assault rifle, it was worth it and I’d go back again and most all of my brothers would do the same.
Seeing “The Killing Pool” changed the way I see the world…and I often pray no person ever should experience such tragedy, but I know the world faces similar tragedies every day. We won’t end it all, but we can end it for one, two, or maybe millions.
Today, when you say you won’t vote because you don’t like your choices or your vote won’t count, know there are people around the world who this election means life or death to. Know that they only wish they had the privilege you do to educate yourself and make the hard choice to check the ballot for a decision that will impact the lives of every American and millions around the world who rely on Americans to be strong and uphold and defend life, liberty, and freedom of those around the world.
To sit out on an election doesn’t solve anything; there is always a better choice for our future. We must put our emotions towards candidates aside and make the most important decision of our future. We must understand what is at stake and cast our votes to reflect our beliefs. I believe voting is a right and privilege provided for us by every man and woman who has donned the uniform since 1775. Some who traded their very lives for you to have the freedom to participate and have a voice in our future. This is an honor that should not be squandered.
I pray on this important election that Americans will show the same passion that Bashir’s family showed in 2004, a passion fueled by an understanding and knowing what is at stake for our futures. This election counts and your vote counts because when America is strong, the world is a better place for everyone.
What if The Killing Pool was in your neighborhood? As for me, I will proudly be voting for the re-election of President Donald Trump because I have no question he is the right man to lead our nation and make America strong on the world stage.