Service & Sacrifice: Oklahoma Veterans Reflect On War In Afghanistan

Wednesday, August 25th 2021, 10:17 pm

By: Dave Davis

For 20 years, thousands of Oklahoma's own have put their lives on the line in Afghanistan. Two decades later, local veterans watched the war end as it began, with the Taliban in control of the country.

Outpost commander Josh Starks served in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.

"I was running across mountaintops at 14,000 feet at 36 years old," Starks recalled. 

Andrea Melcher was assigned secret missions with Army Special Operations from January through June of 2004. She remembers the moment an improved explosive device changed her life.

"It wasn't my vehicle, but it was a different vehicle, so I got a brain injury from that," Melcher said.

Sean O'Brien is a Purple Heart and double Bronze Star recipient who served in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. He remembers feeling the effects the effects of a roadside IED.

“It took off the front of the Humvee,” O’Brien said. “We all got very, very lucky"

The war began in 2001, when the Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden following the September 11 attacks. 20 years later, with Bin Laden dead and the extremist group back in power, many wonder if America’s mission has been accomplished.

"The main terrorist target, we pretty much accomplished that," Melcher said. "We needed to train up their [Afghanistan’s] own army.”

Starks shared his thoughts about Afghanistan’s armed forces.

"You took people, a lot of them had prior service with the Taliban or just you know as fighters, and they came into service,” Starks said. “And a lot of them really strongly believed in democratic government, where they could get out there and the people could rule themselves."

“We prevented more attacks coming into U.S., made sure those countries stop to check themselves and know we will retaliate,” Starks added.

These veterans talked with News On 6 in the weeks before the fall of Kabul. The Taliban had been making gains in the country. The collapse of Afghanistan’s government did not come as a complete surprise to them.

"It's like walking in on a room full of kids doing something they're not supposed to be doing,” O’Brien said. “You know, of course they're unchecked, unmonitored."             

Melcher questions the effectiveness of the war effort.

"My friends and stuff that we lost over there and stuff, like, what was that for?” Melcher said. “There's all the time and resources we spent, you know, trying to build them up." 

“I remember the kids mostly,” said Starks. “As we were teaching the kids and talking with them and meeting with them from day to day, I really fear for what their future looks like."

Seeing the U.S. draw down and the end of the war comes with mixed emotions for the Oklahomans who served.

“It's exciting that our brothers and sisters in arms are coming home," said Starks. “And the flip side is, a lot of us made friends in Afghanistan. A lot of us got to know people for the extended period of time that we were there, and we know what's coming.”                                 

"I really believe we should go back and finish, and anywhere else that there's this kind of evil,” O’Brien said. “We need to go and finish.”                            

All three said they don’t regret enlisting.

"I wouldn't hesitate,” Starks said.

"I'm old now. But I'd totally go back right now,” O’Brien said.

"I wanted to do more,” Melcher said. “I feel like I didn't do enough really."