Loved ones of American service members killed in military action in Afghanistan have been caught in a fresh whirlwind of emotions amidst America’s hasty exit from the war-torn nation.
Veronica Ortiz Rivera lost her husband, Javier, a Marine staff sergeant, to a murderous roadside bomb in 2010. Witnessing terrorism’s resurgence in the place where her best friend lost his life has been especially difficult.
“Watching the images coming out of Afghanistan has been gut-wrenching and disappointing,” she said. “It has stirred up the pain, anger, and rage I felt in the first few days after my husband was killed by the Taliban.”
Javier’s death left his and Rivera’s three young children without a father. Rivera threw herself into caring for them — a strategy she has suddenly had to employ once again as horrific images and videos of Kabul’s fall flooded the internet.
“When Javier died, [our children] were 8, 5, and 3. They weren’t old enough to have social media and be affected by the political rants people spew all over,” Rivera lamented. “They are now. It hurts them to read the posts saying American lives lost in Afghanistan were in vain.”
That’s a view to which their mother will never subscribe.
“If even one Afghan child was spared from the death of a roadside bomb, then Javier’s life was not in vain,” she said. “Javier’s ultimate sacrifice was one of thousands, and not a single American death in Afghanistan can be diminished.”
Carla Buyes, an Oregon mother, got the dreaded knock at the door in November 2011. Her 21-year-old son, Marine Cpl. Adam Buyes, was killed in Helmand province. Though it’s been almost 10 years, his absence hasn’t gotten easier, she says. The last few days have only dredged up that pain further.
“We all knew it had to end someday, but to see it go down like this was painful, to say the least,” Buyes said. “This is harder to articulate than I thought it would be, and I can’t stop the tears from flowing.”
Still, Buyes takes comfort in the fact that Adam had always wanted to be part of “something bigger than himself.”
“He wanted to make a difference, and nothing anyone can do will take away from that,” she said. “What our men and women did during those 20 years made a difference. What Adam did made a difference.”
Britt Harris, a Gold Star wife, plans to continue her husband’s difference-making. Army Spc. Christopher Harris died in a vehicle explosion in Afghanistan four years ago. Chris’ death launched his new bride into action — since 2017, Harris has advocated for Gold Star families nationwide and met with Afghanistan’s first woman ambassador to the United States, among other adventures. Her heart is still in Afghanistan, she explains, especially women and children.
“Chris was adamant about helping others, even to his own demise. He would just continue to help people over and over and sometimes I had to tell him to stop,” said Harris. “I just know the amount of frustration as well as compassion that I am feeling [about Afghanistan] would be magnified in him. He would 100 percent be in the same boat as me.”
That boat means helping two Afghan interpreters she knows to escape their home nation and move somewhere safer. Harris has logged several hours this week on the phone and computer, contacting politicians and immigration officials on their behalf. The last she heard, help was on its way.
It’s a way to strike back against the evil she sees, especially as her 3-year-old daughter Christian excitedly chatters about her day at preschool — without her father there to hear.
“For 20 years, little girls got to come home and do that in Afghanistan, because they could get an education,” Harris said. “Because of service members like Chris, these innocent people had some of the opportunities we have here. I can see no waste in that.”
“There is no life thrown away in helping others.”