August 15th will mark the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban who, on that day, marched into the capital unopposed and took control of the government, the capital, and the country of Afghanistan. It is a day that I will never forget.
Prior to this day, I had been working with my Congressman, Mark Takano (D-CA 41st District), to get Afghan Nationals, who had worked as interpreters for my command in 2011, the Afghan National Army Special Operations Advisory Group(ANASOAG), out of Afghanistan, along with their family members, via the US State Department Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. The Congressman and I had started working on this in 2015 after I had returned from my second tour in Afghanistan and up to August 2021, we had succeeded in getting six of them out along with their family members. We had five former interpreters in the pipeline when the US pulled completely out of Afghanistan on 31 August. Several of these five tried to get out via the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) but were turned back several times by the Taliban who had been given permission to control all the entry points to HKIA. Because of this, many of the Taliban manning these entry points turned back ANYONE who was found to have documents showing that they worked or the US government/US military.
At the same time, they let through many people who had NO connection to the US government/US military whatsoever (This is why so many Afghans ended up in the US and US government officials had NO idea who these people were). Not only did the Taliban turn back Afghans who should have been allowed in because of their connections to the US government/US military but they also physically attacked many of these people at the entry points. One of the five Afghans we had been trying to get out via the SIV process was severely beaten on his last attempt to gain access to HKIA. Taliban control of the entry points to HKIA was one of the reasons why so many Afghans in the SIV process were left behind and it was one of the reasons why 13 US servicemembers were killed by a suicide bomber on 26 August 2021.
Getting Them Out-Hitting A Wall
After the US pullout on 31 August, I continued to work on trying to get the five Afghans who were in the SIV process out of Afghanistan. When I had no luck with the US State Department, I turned to nonprofit organizations that either existed prior to the pull-out or were formed after the pull-out and that claimed that their primary mission was to find ways to get Afghan Nationals out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, of over the dozen that I established contact with and attempted to work with, not one organization was able to help me get any Afghan Nationals out of Afghanistan. I spent a good seven of the eleven months working with nonprofit organizations. The closest I came to success was an air evac mission involving the government and country of Portugal, but this never materialized despite our putting up money to secure places on the air evac flights for our group which had grown from five individuals to thirty-four individuals due to word of mouth among those stuck in Afghanistan about former US service members who were still trying to help Afghan Nationals get out of Afghanistan.
Recently, the US State Department has implemented some changes to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in order to expedite the issuance of SIVs in an effort to assist those Afghan Nationals who were in the SIV application process when the US pullout on 31 August occurred and who were left behind (The standard wait time for the approval of an SIV prior to August 2021 was THREE years). However,
regarding the people we are trying to help, the grim reality appears to be that when the anniversary of the pullout occurs at the end of next month, they will still be in Afghanistan. Regarding this situation, I would appeal to President Biden directly, but I have been reluctant to do so given my experience in trying to get him to respond to me regarding asking for his help as a disabled combat veteran on a personal matter.
In my case, I was the sole owner of my own business and in the US Army Reserve when I was called up shortly after 9/11. Over the next twelve years, I have deployed a total of seven times. I served honorably and was decorated for my service. However, I paid the price for
serving my country in uniform in times of war. My business failed as a result of all my active-duty deployments and, as a result, I fell behind on my personal taxes. So far, between last year and this year, I have written the President five times asking for his help in my dealing with the IRS or for his intervention in my getting total IRS back taxes forgiveness in consideration of my military service. Except for one standard form note I received from the White House; I have gotten no response. At a time when the President is talking about forgiving massive student debt, you can imagine how a disabled combat veteran feels about this and the fact that he is ignored, along with the personal sacrifices he made in order to serve his country. The frustration is even compounded considering what I did over and above my active-duty military service.
Before my company went out of business, it participated in the development and fielding of the Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles which to date have saved the lives and/or limbs of hundreds of thousands of US servicemembers (for which I refused to accept monetary compensation due to my active duty service). It was my hope that this would be taken into consideration regarding my tax situation but despite mentioning this in all my letters to the President, I received no response. My situation only involves a low six-figure amount owed to the IRS. It is insignificant to the US government, but it is a major obstacle to me in my quest to put my life back together and get back on track after my wartime service.
It is my sincere belief that stories like mine, when they are made public, are one of the contributing factors as to why fewer and fewer young Americans are stepping forward to serve their country in uniform. When these young people see how veterans, even disabled combat veterans, are treated in this country, the number one question that they ask themselves is why serve if this is how you are treated after you serve? Because I believe in the saying that “Once a soldier, always a soldier”, I will continue to write the President asking for his assistance regarding my personal situation. Not giving up was one of the things that was instilled in me during all my years in uniform. I am not able or willing to change my way of dealing with obstacles, setbacks, or adversity. Regarding the Afghan Nationals I am trying to help who are still stuck in Afghanistan, to me, the “Leave no one behind” creed that I was taught in the Army and learned to believe in, applies to them as well. Just like other former US servicemembers, most of whom are working on their own time and using their own resources, I cannot and will not abandon the people who put their lives on the line to help us. When the anniversary of the pullout comes at the end of next
month, I trust that they will not be as frustrated as I am and will keep the faith knowing that many Americans, who were former US servicemembers, are still doing their best to get all of them out so that they get the opportunity to come to America and realize the American Dream that they have earned the right to enjoy.
NOTE: Elton Johnson, Jr., is a retired US Army Reserve (USAR) Lieutenant Colonel. During the Global
War of Terror (GWOT), he completed two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan (in addition to
one tour as a DoD contractor) and four other active duty military deployments to Germany, Kuwait,
Qatar, and Fort Irwin, CA. For his combat tours, he received the Bronze Star Medal, the Defense
Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, two Joint Service Achievement
Medals, and the US Army Combat Action Badge (for engaging in actual combat).