As local military veterans enjoyed each other’s company at the Clarion County Veterans Picnic on Saturday, their minds were on Afghanistan and the American withdrawal.
Clarion County native Chip Gilliland, an employee of the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs at Fort Indiantown Gap, did a nine-month tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. As a Chinook flight engineer, he flew 77 combat missions.
“I was part of air assaults, direct assaults and about everything you could do with a Chinook,” he said.
“The amount of equipment we left over there for the Afghan people is amazing,” he said. “It was billions of dollars worth of equipment. Sooner or later, it will be used against us.”
Reports of as many as 150 Blackhawk helicopters being left behind concerns him.
“The Taliban may not have pilots for the Blackhawks now, but they will make them,” Gilliland said.
Zack Pearson, a native of Port Allegany in McKean County, served two tours of duty in Iraq in 2006-2008 and 2009-2010 with the Army. He, too, works for the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs
“I believe that sooner, or later, we needed to get out of Afghanistan,” he said. “As a combat veteran, I am a little disheartened by it. Withdrawing our soldiers was a good idea, but the immediate withdrawal the way it happened was not good.
“I am not really educated on pullout strategies. I see the tragedy and turmoil it has caused due to the rush. There are so many Americans left behind and it is extremely unsafe for them.”
Knox resident Scott Bell served with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam. He said although the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War looked similar to the scenes at the Kabul airport, there are differences.
“These people were warned they should get out and didn’t leave,” he said. “There is no cure for stupidity.”
“If you are going to fight a war, fight a war,” he said. “I don’t know how we got tangled up in Afghanistan. I thought we should have gotten out earlier. President Trump said we should get them out and President Biden is only following up on what Trump said.”
Kenneth Buchanan, a Clarion resident and Army veteran of the Vietnam War, said he doesn’t understand how it happened so quickly.
“I can’t understand why we left all of those aircraft,” he said. “In Vietnam we were told to destroy everything if the enemy started to take over. We don’t want them to have all of that technology.”
Air Force veteran Roger Travis, of Clarion, said the Afghanistan pullout “was a lot worse” than Saigon. “This was total incompetency. President Biden is not listening to the military. The military would have had a better plan.
“Those people (the Taliban) don’t negotiate the way we do. If they find out you were on the American side, you’re dead.
“The Afghan women will suffer the most. “It will set them back 20 years.”