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U.S. soldiers enter a compound for a security meeting in Shah Joy District, Zabul Province, Afghanistan in the fall of 2010.
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Students at a girls school in Shah Joy District, Zabul Province, Afghanistan where U.S. soldiers handed out school supplies in 2010.
During his time in Afghanistan, Dudley carried his camera with him, taking photos. His images show little girls in brightly colored clothing, staring inquisitively at the camera. Their small hands grip the green pencils he handed out.
He laughs as he remembers helping one girl fend off a bully who was trying to take her pencil.
«Helping to provide those opportunities for those young girls…I definitely from time to time still think about that experience and wonder where those girls are,» Dudley says. «Especially within recent events.»
Those memories were once comforting, but now they’re also a source of worry.
That’s why veteran Ross Schambon prefers not to think about Afghanistan at all.
Leaving Afghanistan behind
«It was a complete waste,» he says.
He criticizes President Biden for the withdrawal, saying he should have left more troops in place to stand up to the Taliban.
«They just kind of lay down. They’re laying down for everything,» Schambon says. «Whereas the previous president, he actually had a backbone.»
Schambon has unsentimental opinions about the war. He says he has to.
He served in Afghanistan with the Rakkasans out of Fort Campbell and moved back to Glasgow, Ky., after his service. In his brigade combat team, he was a military sniper. He remembers watching from a mountain top as one of his fellow soldiers was hit by a mortar and died.
He is reminded of the things he saw with every step he takes — he has stress fractures in his legs, bone fragments in his knees, damage to his lower back and more. But he tries to ignore the pain and the memories, and move forward.
«I’ve got my kids to think about,» he says. One is 6 and the other is 10 months. They are his future, he says.
The war is over, and no matter the outcome, he says he just wants to leave it in the past.
U.S. Veterans struggling with the news out of Afghanistan can talk to a counselor at the Veterans Crisis hotline. The number is 1-800-273-8255