Afghanistan exit leaves behind hurting families, angry veterans, pointed questions

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Against a backdrop of 90 dead Illinois soldiers during the Afghanistan War, veterans and relatives of those who lost their lives struggle with the controversial American exodus.

Earlier this week, the sad and solemn journey for Marine Corporal Humberto Sanchez ended. He became the last of 182 service members from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin to lose their lives during the war in Afghanistan.

Sanchez, 22, was in the group of 13 who died when a suicide bomber struck Kabul's airport as the U.S. was trying to finish its evacuation. The war may be over, but the war of words is not.

SEE ALSO | Biden praises Kabul airlift, defends departure from 'forever war' in Afghanistan

One day after the last American C-17 cargo plane departed Kabul, President Biden vigorously defended his decision to end the 20 year war and withdraw all U.S. troops ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline.

"I was not going to extend a forever war. And I was not going to extend a forever exit," Biden said.

As President Biden tried to put a button on the war and the exodus, some who served and survived during the two-decade effort aren't yet willing to let it go.

Among them is Chicago Army veteran Brian Bradley, who worked the ammunition supply line at Bagram Airfield until 2008.

"I've been extremely angry and probably sad for the last couple of weeks as this has unfolded, even when some of the announcements were coming, that this was coming, I, you know, was not happy at all about it because I kind of, you know foresee it, you know, as many other veterans would you talk to, as well, you know this is going to be a big problem," said Bradley.

SEE ALSO | Man describes harrowing escape from Kabul, Afghanistan after being separated from family
It's the future, and the present, that Blake Schroedter helps fellow veterans deal with. Schroedter served in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009 with an Illinois Army National Guard Unit. Now, as a clinical psychologist with Rush University Medical Center's "Road Home" clinic in Effingham, he helps veterans struggling with post-war life, especially now that the war they fought is officially over.

"We're seeing a mix, you know, we're seeing a lot of emotions around the current events. You know, I would say everything from anger to betrayal to some who experience relief-- sadness, helplessness. You know, I would say all these are normal reactions to abnormal events. But, you know, I, you know, it's really a spectrum and it's based on individual experiences," said Schroedter.

Bradley said he is scared of what is going to happen to those who are still in Afghanistan.

"Are we going to go back to the videos of the hostage, the horrific hostage situations., you know, where like, Hey, you know we have this American citizen, you know, we're going to scare the rest of the world again because that's who we are and what we do. You know, we can't trust what you know, those types of organizations are saying or, you know, I mean they're, they're gangsters if you think about it, they really are," Bradley said.

America's longest war left 90 service members from Illinois dead. And for many of those who made it home, they are suffering from what counselors call "moral injury."

Similar to the post-Vietnam struggle for soldiers, "moral injury" is a result of unconventional combat, in close quarters, with civilian casualties. For thousands of veterans, fighting that war is not over.
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