By David Fleet
On Aug. 30 for the first time in nearly 20 years, American forces were no longer a fixture in Afghanistan. According to news sources, soon after the U.S. departure drawing the end to America’s longest war, Taliban fighters took control of Hamid Karzai International Airport. The last flight out meeting President Biden administration’s Aug. 31 deadline for complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, was described as a historical moment by the Taliban.
While the U.S. withdrawal proved to be chaotic for the region the aftermath of two decades of war for Americans will remain.
Pfc. Joseph Miracle had been in Afghanistan for just 35 days when he was killed. His fellow soldiers have told his family the reason they got out alive was because of actions Miracle took when they were surprised by 30-40 insurgents.
The 2003 Brandon High School graduate died July 5, 2007 from wounds sustained from hostile enemy fire in the Watapor Valley of Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Miracle is remembered as a great student, athlete, son, brother, friend and, ultimately, hero.
He was 22.
Miracle signed up for the Army in April 2006 and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy. Miracle received several awards posthumously including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and NATO Badge. Joseph’s mother Judy Miracle emphasized a fear that after the military returns their sacrifices will be forgotten.
“The military families are not thinking about it right now, but soon they will,” said Judy. “My son gave his life for his country, it’s the ultimate sacrifice.”
“Joe was my youngest child and was an athlete,” she said. “As a kid he struggled to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life after high school. College was just not for him—it was logical he gravitated toward the military.”
In high school, Joe was on the varsity baseball team and was a running back and co-captain of the varsity football team his sophomore through senior years. He was voted most valuable player multiple years.
“The military was another team to him,” she said. “And it was the team he loved and the camaraderie that comes with it.”
Judy was never able to speak with Joe while he was in Afghanistan, however she did receive a letter that described a rough environment, living in tents that pushed his physical endurance.
“He appeared disgruntled with that part of the world,” she said. “I’m happy our military is coming home from Afghanistan, let them (Afghanistan) figure it out. The exit from the region was not great, we should have done better, but given the barbaric nature of the county it could almost be expected.”
In 2011 Goodrich High School Principal David St. Aubin returned to active duty to serve a year-long stint in Afghanistan.
The call up was the second year-long tour by St. Aubin who in 2008, was called to active duty and served a year in Iraq. His mission was to help train Iraqi soldiers so they can better provide security for their own nation. St. Aubin was a U.S. Army Reservist, went into the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Western Michigan University, and obtained a master’s degree in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University. St. Aubin, served as a drill sergeant, earned the rank of lieutenant colonel over more than 25 years of duty. He served 13 years as GHS principal and retired in 2017.
“I worked everyday with the active military,” he said. “You can’t imagine the sacrifice they are making. They are away from their families, some have four tours, even eight out there. That’s a sacrifice.”
“I was a liaison, a fancy word for a communication guy,” he said. “My duty was to report back combat ‘ops’ in the Helmand and Kandhar Province. I was stationed in Camp Leatherneck with the Marines and also worked the 10th Mountain Division and the 82nd Airborne.”
The primary focus of the invasion was the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, with the goal of dismantling the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base, he said.
“We are not trying to get the Afghan people to be like us,” he said. “We were trying to get certain aspects of what we do that’s better for the people including due process of law. Afghan society is male-centered it’s all about decisions that males make. However, since the internet is available in Afghanistan and Iraq, the younger generations are seeing what other countries are like, especially if you’re a female. Afghan women were saying, ‘You mean females can run for office? They can be doctors?’ That opens their minds. There’s an underline movement of change; there were new variances between tribes in Afghanistan.”
“They did not have any problem receiving help,” he said. “There were women locally who started taking office. That was the change the government was able to make due to our presence.”
“I spent my days out in villages, the countryside or in forward operating bases (FOB),” he said. “I traveled to some pretty ‘shady’ areas of Afghanistan. We fought alongside the Afghan soldiers. It was mutual.”
St. Aubin did not support the recent withdrawal of troops.
“There’s a way to withdraw from a country,” he said. “And we did not do it, we failed. I’m sad, angry, and a lot of other emotions. I’m hurting for the Afghan people and the Americans that are still over there. They all should have been out long ago.”
St. Aubin said that Americans should have stayed in the country longer and finished the mission.
“We were there to help people,” he said. “We fought with them. I thank God everyday I came back in one piece, there were those that did not make it home”
“You don’t know the face of evil until you look in the eyes of an Al-Qaeda fighter or the Taliban,” he said. “And see what they did to the people of Afghanistan. If people want to armchair quarterback from home, be my guest. But for myself and many others we were there.”
By David Fleet