Accountability on Veterans Day

by: Kevin Nicholson, Volunteer President and CEO of No Better Friend Corp. and Contributor to RealClearPolitics

Given that less than 10% of the current U.S. population has served in the armed forces – down from 18% in 1980 – it is no surprise that many Americans are unaware of the daily realities of military life. As we approach Veterans Day this year, for a sense of perspective, it’s worth juxtaposing some of these military realties against what the world just witnessed during the Biden administration’s shameful and pathetic extraction from Afghanistan. 

Any active-duty military professional or veteran can tell you: The U.S. military places severe emphasis on the need to account for all serialized gear. Serialized gear can be a rifle, night vision goggles, a helicopter, a plane, or a GPS unit. If it has a serial number on it, and you lose it,  it could cost you your career. What’s more, if you are a unit commander, and the gear is important enough – such as a rifle – you can lose your command if one of the members of your unit loses their serialized gear. This is the reality of military life.

During my deployment to Afghanistan (2008-09), I led a Joint Task Force Paladin Counter-IED Team; my team was comprised of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Our mission was to defeat the improvised explosive device threat in and around Maiwand. During that time, Maiwand was one of, if not the, most heavily IED’d chunks of ground on Earth. As of January 2009, over 100 bombs had been exploded or discovered in Maiwand since U.S. forces had arrived the previous year – an average of about one a day.

Late one night, after returning from an IED-related event, one of the up-armored mine-resistant vehicles (pictured) in the convoy that I commanded rolled over after a tire slipped off the raised asphalt road. The roads in this area had a sharp drop and steep shoulders, and the heavy vehicles were prone to rolling when their tires slipped suddenly. Fortunately, the turret gunner remained inside the vehicle – avoiding the fate of being cut in half as the vehicle rolled onto his turret – and overall injuries were minor. Everyone walked away that day.

I ordered the convoy to create a perimeter, and we all assessed casualties and collected up the gear that had spilled out of the vehicle. I broke the convoy into two parts: I sent the first three vehicles back to base with the damaged vehicle and injured personnel so that they could receive medical attention; and I remained with the latter half of the convoy as we further secured the area and looked for one piece of missing gear – a PEQ-2 that had flown off a rifle in the truck that rolled. 

An AN/PEQ-2 is an aiming device that mounts on an M4 rifle so that the rifle’s directional point can be seen through night vision googles. PEQ-2s are serialized gear — they cannot kill anyone when not attached to a rifle — but they are serialized gear, so they matter.

We looked everywhere, but could not find it. It was the middle of the night – and, again, we were trodding on some of the most heavily IED’d ground on the planet. I made the call that the device was likely impacted in the dirt – crushed by the 15-ton vehicle – and that we needed to return to base for the night.

The next morning, our unit was ordered back out to find the device, in complete keeping with the U.S. military’s strict measures of accountability for serialized gear. 

Everyone knew that there was a high likelihood that the Taliban watched our middle-of-the-night search and may have implanted an IED there in the hopes we would return. Despite this probability, and despite the fact that our area of operation was infested with IEDs, we were ordered to go out and find the serialized gear that had likely been destroyed by the rollover the previous night. Neither I, nor anyone on my team, questioned this order; we understood the standard.

Not long after we arrived at the rollover location, we found the crushed gear – impacted well into the ground and completely inoperable.  We returned to base with no further incident.

Admittedly, this is an event that I have not really thought about much since that deployment; we accomplished our mission, nobody was hurt, we found the gear, and we achieved the standard expected of us. Not much of a war story.

But this summer, when the Biden administration kicked off one of the most inexplicable military actions in the history of the United States government by evacuating Bagram Airfield – in the middle of the night and with no notice to allies – the story became much more relevant. 

On Aug. 28, President Biden’s reckless and poorly executed pullout put 11 Marines, one sailor, and one soldier into an untenable position that resulted in their deaths at the hands of a terrorist bombing attack. Biden’s frenzied exit saw nearly 122,000 (mostly non-vetted) people from Afghanistan shipped to the U.S., while hundreds of American citizens were left stranded in a Taliban-controlled war zone.

Beyond the human toll, the Biden administration also left behind masses of serialized gear: Black Hawk helicopters, PC-12 surveillance planes, armored vehicles, drones, rocket-propelled weapons, grenade launchers, Howitzer artillery pieces, machine guns, rifles, pistols, shotguns and more.  While your average USMC lance corporal would face severe punishment for losing his night vision goggles in the midst of a combat operation, the Biden administration has gone about attempting to hide audits of Afghanistan military equipment – even going so far as removing reports on U.S. military gear from federal government websites.

While the Administration works to hide its ineptitude, many veterans who served in combat cannot help but recall the times we risked our lives to find missing serialized gear, like that PEQ-2 in Maiwand. We all understood the standard, and we abided by it. We were, after all, preventing American weaponry from falling into the hands of the enemy.

On this Veterans Day, as our nation honors the millions of American veterans who risked their lives to safeguard our nation’s future, one can only hope President Biden will spare us any false gestures and platitudes.  My advice to him: Skip the speeches; you would be better off spending your time trying to recover the American weapons of war that you handed to our enemies.

Read Kevin Nicholson’s piece in RealClearPolitics here.

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