LIVED THROUGH THIS

This Is My Vietnam

An Afghanistan veteran weighs in on whether what we did mattered in the ‘Forever War’

Benjamin Sledge
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readAug 17, 2021

--

Left: U.S. evacuation in Kabul (2021). Right: U.S. evacuation in Saigon (1975). Photos courtesy of the author

On December 10, 2003, Taliban and al-Qaida operatives launched a complex attack against the small forward operating base I’d been stationed at for eight months. In the barrage and carnage that followed, my friend Steve and I were wounded in action. I took shrapnel to my arms and lower back, had my wrist fractured, and was knocked unconscious. When I came to, muscle memory took over, and I ran out under a gauntlet of explosions searching for medics while Steve slowly bled out because a piece of shrapnel had hit a vein in his arm.

The attack ended when an Air Force combat controller called in a massive airstrike, leveling the side of a nearby mountain. To this day, I cannot recall how I left the area we had bunkered down in while I worked furiously to patch up Steve. I found myself standing on a tarmac covered in blood, watching a helicopter disappear in the distance while I clutched Steve’s rifle.

Steve survived, and three days later, the Army medically evacuated me to Kandahar. I refused to return to the United States and finished my tour of duty, answering phones with my good hand (medics had cast the other) and carting interpreters around.

A week before leaving, my best friend, Danton “Kyle” Seitsinger, arrived as one of our replacements. My last words to him when he expressed fear of dying at the hands of the Taliban were more or less to “not be a pussy” and “make his peace with death.” He was killed a week later, and I’ve regretted those words for over 17 years.

By the time 2004 ended, seven men I had fought next to or been friends with were dead, three of them from my unit.

Left: Rappelling into caves. Center: The author in a blue ballcap preparing for a combat op. Right: The author with a friend and local interpreter.

One of the key skill sets in my military career revolved around civil affairs. We studied the language, history, geopolitics, and background of the areas we worked in. It often flabbergasts the average American to discover that the Afghans didn’t necessarily care for the Taliban but also didn’t mind them. The local men and…

--

--

Benjamin Sledge
Human Parts

Multi-award winning author | Combat wounded veteran | Mental health specialist | Occasional geopolitical intel | Graphic designer | https://benjaminsledge.com