While many lament the tragic end to the two-decade U.S. operations in Afghanistan following the return of the Taliban, Guam soldiers who served tours of duty in the war-torn nation see the silver lining.
"We brought a better life for many people for a long time. That hope can stay with them if they choose to," said Capt. Mark Scott, public affairs officer at the Guam National Guard.
After 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. military has begun the process of withdrawing American troops from Hamid Karzai International Airport, the Pentagon announced Saturday.
The forces' withdrawal was preceded by a terror attack that killed 13 U.S. troops who were trying to rescue the last of the evacuees out of Kabul on Thursday.
"This is a hard time for many of us," said Scott, who had been deployed at least five times, three in Afghanistan. His last tour was in 2019.
Scott said the Guam National Guard had three major deployments to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. The first unit was deployed in 2005-2006, and two other groups followed in 2008 and 2013.
"It's always the right thing to do-- to answer the call and fight for freedom," he said. "We will continue to serve regardless of the political outcomes."
According to the Washington Post's "Faces of Fallen" project, 2,354 U.S. service members died in Afghanistan throughout the 20-year campaign. Of this number, 11 were from Guam.
On Friday, the Republican Party of Guam issued a statement expressing grief over the tragic fate of 13 U.S. service members, who were killed during two suicide bombings in Kabul last week.
"The events are hard to process. I lost a few friends over the years in Afghanistan," a Guam contractor who recently came back home. "It breaks my heart from a human standpoint, especially the women and children."
The contractor, who requested anonymity, said "it was pretty much business as usual" when he left Kabul on July 26.
"I was on a scheduled vacation, so I kind of got lucky," he said. "I was supposed to go back on Sept. 6 but was worried about that because I thought it would all happen on 9/11. Pretty much what everyone expected."
The contractor worked as a maintenance tech for the State Department's helicopters that support the U.S. embassy. He was initially in Bagram for about six months and later moved to Kabul, where he stayed for more than two years.
"We are kind of like their taxis since they can’t drive anywhere. Also, we were pulled for military support when things got bad," the contractor said. "We just did our jobs and the pilots did normal missions and we're doing more training than usual because we knew what was coming."
The contractor said the U.S. troops' pullout from Afghanistan was premature.
"I feel we really did not need to leave right now," he said. "I know people want their family members home and safe. But you see what happens when we left. Unfortunately, the whole world is taking notice. And trusts us less and less."
Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Guam said "it stands with the soldiers, and their objectives of immediately and safely assisting the evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan during the midst of the turmoil created by the Taliban regime."