In September of 2001, I was an eighteen-year-old freshman at the University of Arizona. Before 9/11, I had hardly ever thought about Afghanistan. Like so many Americans, so much about my world changed that day. Eventually, I would enlist in the Army and deploy twice to Afghanistan.
More important than the fear and anger I felt that day, I remember a profound sense of national unity and purpose in the weeks and months to follow, something that seems so distant given the polarization of our country today. In response, I joined AmeriCorps, in part because President Bush in his 2002 State of the Union Address called on “every American to commit at least two years…to the service of your neighbors and your nation.”
After finishing my two years with AmeriCorps and finishing college, I joined the Army. In Afghanistan, I made friends with incredible Afghan allies, I saw progress for the women and girls of the country, but I also became disillusioned with our mission.
After nearly 20 years, President Biden ended the War in Afghanistan. He made the right call. Now, he needs to lead us by calling on Americans to come together: making sure we do not forget our country’s sacrifices in Afghanistan after 9/11.
First, we need to continue the work of evacuating all American citizens and Afghan allies for as long as it takes. We need to quickly expand the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to give all vulnerable Afghans legal pathways to get out of the country as soon as possible. Over the long term, we need to commit ourselves to find ways to invest in the development of the Afghan people despite control of the country by the Taliban.
Fortunately, in Arizona, two military veteran leaders in the Senate and the Congress have stepped up to help evacuate the remaining Americans and Afghan allies. The offices of Senator Mark Kelly, a former Navy pilot, and Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Marine, have already assisted hundreds in finding safe passage out of Afghanistan. Their history of military service uniquely positions them to work with President Biden to keep Americans safe and call on Americans to come together.
Senator Kelly and Congressman Gallego understand how to make sure we honor the sacrifices of all those who fought in Afghanistan. We need to keep our commitment to those who fought alongside us. Veterans leaving the military need all the support our country can provide as they transition to civilian life. After 20 years of war and thousands of American lives lost, President Biden made the right but difficult decision to bring our troops home.
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, our country needs to find that same sense of national unity we once had. I know President Biden can call on Americans to find new ways to serve at home and abroad, and I know Americans will respond. Now more than ever, our country needs more ways for us to come together.
Aaron Marquez is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. The views expressed here are those of him alone and not those of the Department of Defense.