The mother of a Kosraean soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2012 recalled a conversation with her son, whose words hold a stinging prescience now.
“He said, ‘You know I feel so sorry for the villagers when we leave. The bad people will come and surely they will kill them. Because they helped us, that’s why they’re going to come kill them," Maryann Nena narrates in the documentary film "Island Soldier."
Mrs. Nena, mother of the late U.S. Army Sgt. Sapuro Nena, told her son: "You cannot save the whole world." Sgt Nena replied: "If I can save one or two, means a lot.’”
For some veterans and soldiers from Micronesia, it’s difficult to see how the U.S. war in Afghanistan ended, especially considering the sacrifices and lives lost of the past 20 years.
"FSM citizens volunteer to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces at per capita rates higher than most U.S. states,” a 2018 U.S. State Department article states. Micronesia has been referred to more than once as a “recruiter’s paradise” for the U.S. military.
Since 2001, 16 soldiers from the FSM, five from Palau and one from Marshall Islands have died, according to the Department of Interior.
The United States withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 30, ending a 20-year war. The Associated Press estimated it costs about $2 trillion. About 62 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth fighting.
The withdrawal has also been negatively viewed. NBC News found 25 percent of Americans approve of the way President Joe Biden handled the Afghanistan situation. CBS found most of the Americans they polled, 74 percent, say the withdrawal of troops was “very badly” or “somewhat badly" handled.
Some veterans from the FSM share that same sentiment.
“I’ve been in touch with a number of veterans over the last couple of weeks and I think the overwhelming feelings are anger and a sense of betrayal,” said filmmaker Nathan Fitch. “Everyone seems unhappy with the way this was done. I don’t want to pretend to speak for Micronesian soldiers but the ones I’ve been in touch with are not super happy with the way this went down.”
Fitch’s film “Island Soldier” explores the lives of Micronesian soldiers volunteering in the U.S. military and sheds light on the ocean-sized gaps in service for Micronesian veterans and their surviving family members.
The Compacts of Free Association allow citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands to serve in the U.S. Armed Services.
The mother of U.S. Army Sgt. Sapuro Nena told Fitch it was a “bad idea to leave Afghanistan like that” and it was “embarrassing to our nation.”
Another Kosraean veteran told him, “I feel sorry for the Afghan people and somehow feels that all those soldiers died in vain.”
The documentary took Fitch from Kosrae to Colorado to Afghanistan, where he was embedded for about a month.
When he started the film, Fitch questioned why someone would leave the peaceful and tranquil island paradises to the war-torn desert of Afghanistan. They’re opposites, Fitch said.
“One of the things I realized is that they’re different but they’re also both controlled politics beyond their control. They’re both countries that have always been strategically important for other surrounding countries,” he said. “Politically, kind of they’re in a tug-of-war, both Afghanistan and (FSM), so strangely they have more in common.”
Micronesia and Afghanistan are different worlds but both countries have village cultures, aren’t very wealthy and have been impacted by the U.S. military, Fitch also said.
Fitch recalled how Nena, fondly remembered as “Sapp” made an effort with Afghan people.
There were stories of Nena learning Pashtun. The Afghan people saw Nena’s brown skin and questioned if he was from Afghanistan, Fitch said, adding that he thinks there was a certain empathy Micronesian soldiers had for Afghan people.
The 25-year-old Nena was killed on Sept. 16, 2012 along with four other soldiers when they were attacked with small-arms fire in Zabul, Afghanistan. Nena's wife was staying with their family on Guam during his deployment.
“The sad irony of Sapp being killed was that he was the one who did a really good job of connecting with the Afghans and he was killed by Afghan (police) who turned on U.S. soldiers,” Fitch said.