'We built hospitals. We built schools': Reflecting on Afghanistan as Biden withdraws troops

Robert Ham served seven years in the Army. One of those years in Afghanistan was filled with good intentions. 

Says Ham, "Some of the people I served with are some of the best people. We built hospitals. We built schools. We tried to treat the people with as much respect as possible and yet war is war. It’s Hell. It’s horrible."

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He lost 13 fellow soldiers during combat that he’s thinking about as he watches the end of the Afghanistan War. He has a tattoo to remember all 13 and a bracelet for two of them. 

The two were PFC Justin Casillas and PFC Aaron Fairbairn. Justin Casillas received the silver star for attempting to save Aaron. Both died. Casillas was 19, posthumously received the silver star for trying to save Fairbairn’s life. Fairbairn was 20. 

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Says Ham, "These were kids… I’m sad that we couldn’t accomplish what we said and what we thought we were able to accomplish. The weight of their death is always here."

Ham says it’s especially hard for the mothers of the fallen. Including moms like Sarah Leas. 

"It’s heart-wrenching at the same time. I’m glad that we’re pulling our people out. It seems like it was a no-win situation," Leas said.

Her son Lance Corporal Rick Centanni died during a road attack 10 days before his 20th birthday.   

Leas says, "His entire purpose in his mind was to free America from having another 9/11."

But, the price of war is the loss of life. 

To Centanni’s mom, "It’s a great cost to those of us that are left behind. Our loved ones didn’t sign up for a particular location or a particular war or particular event. They signed up to protect the United States of America. All of us whether we wanted to be protected or not. My son knew what the consequences could be."

That doesn’t make it any less difficult on our veterans. As Robert Ham and I spoke, I noticed Janice Bowman, a Coast Guard veteran who was with us representing the Battleship Iowa, was in tears thinking about those feeling the pain of losing a loved one in Afghanistan and what they’ve gone through this past weekend. 

She knows the heartache so many in the military who lost friends or loved ones may be feeling. 

Says Bowman, "And, it just breaks my heart to go through it with them."