Twenty years — that’s how long U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan. I’ve been with my spouse for nine years. It would be a wild understatement to say that our family has been affected by the longest war in U.S. history.
But the Biden administration has the chance to change the status quo. May 1 is the deadline for President Joe Biden to decide if he will extend U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, or if he will take the Doha agreement offramp and finally bring troops home.
Every time Afghanistan comes up in the news, I think about last year when my wife, Stephanie Basilias, a U.S. Army Reservist based in Seattle, deployed to the Middle East. Chronic anxiety already comes with the territory of loving someone in uniform overseas. One day, I remember being at the gym when a Twitter alert popped up on my phone, announcing military action that spelled unrest in that region. It hit me like a punch in the gut, and I immediately thought of the worst.
I wasn’t the only one fretting. America’s post-9/11 wars affect a disproportionate share of Washingtonians. Our state has the seventh most active duty and reserve military personnel in the country, and the fourth most per capita, plus an additional 31,000 civilians working for the military. Military personnel from Washington also serve in the post-9/11 wars at a rate higher than the national average.
I serve as a community leader, so for days I kept getting bombarded with questions from other Washington reservist families, asking me for information I longed for myself. We later learned that her unit had indeed been targeted, and two of her soldiers suffered traumatic brain injuries.
America’s forever wars affect all parts of our communities in ways that aren’t always obvious. The hidden costs of war are seen in families where service members, their spouses, and their children wrestle with mental illnesses and economic well-being. They’re seen in veterans who come home from war with disabilities and have to acclimate back to “normalcy.” I see these hidden costs of war firsthand here in Washington through my family’s role in our community. I’m asking President Biden to notice and act on them, too.
As a reservist, my wife sees the military and the civilian side of an all-too-common equation. She deploys with her fellow soldiers, witnessing combat injury, trauma and worse. Then, she comes home, where she works as a social worker in our community. Many of her clients are veterans struggling with mental illness, homelessness and substance abuse — oftentimes stemming from their military experience. Considering the high number of recruits who come from marginalized communities, the toll of these wars often exacerbates existing structural inequities.
My wife joined the Army at 17, feeling an irresistible call to service after visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All nine years of our dating-now-married life together have been characterized by the military — the rewarding, the unpredictable and the painstaking of it all.
Don’t get me wrong — I take tremendous pride in my role of “military spouse.” I fought hard through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the battle for marriage equality to earn that title. And I want my wife to continue doing what she loves. But when I hear that the U.S. still can’t manage to leave Afghanistan, it’s hard not to throw up my hands in frustration. Like many post-9/11 military families here in Washington, we’ve given a lot, and we’re tired. Our family is about to grow with our first child almost here, and I want my wife home for that. The prospect of yet more deployments to the same place for unchanged reasons hits us hard. President Biden shouldn’t expect U.S. troops, their families and their communities to continue carrying this burden. It’s time to end the war in Afghanistan.