'It's mind-boggling': Veteran reflects on America's longest war as Biden calls for troop withdrawal

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, April 15, 2021
'It's mind-boggling': War vet on Biden's troop withdrawal announcement
"20 years is two-thirds of my life," Underhill told ABC11. "And we still have guys there... It's mind-boggling to me."

After nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan, a chance to reconnect with Thomas Underhill. He's a part of the 9/11 generation: 9-years-old when the World Trade Center towers fell; 10 years after that he was in Afghanistan serving as an army medic in the Stryker Brigade fighting the War on Terror.

"20 years is two-thirds of my life," Underhill said. "And we still have guys there... It's mind-boggling to me."

The former army specialists spoke to ABC11, ten years after being interviewed by the station in Afghanistan and just hours after President Joe Biden announced he would withdrawal all U.S. forces out by September 11, 2021.

His plan is to pull out all American forces - numbering 2,500 now - by this Sept. 11, the anniversary of the attacks, which were coordinated from Afghanistan.

"I've concluded that it's time to end America's longest war," Biden said from the White House Treaty Room. "It's time for American troops to come home."

Underhill agrees. "We need to let the Afghans stand up and do it themselves," he said.

ABC11 first met Underhill while embedded with Fort Bragg troops in Afghanistan in 2011. It was during a November 14 tour of coalition efforts in Kandahar's Panjwai district, where 36 hours before, a deadly IED blast struck Underhill's platoon.

The then 21-year-old medic ran towards danger. He saved a life. And he spoke to ABC11 before being awarded an army commendation medal for valor.

"We're sad. But we're trying to focus, get on with the mission," Underhill said that day in 2011.

Ten years later: "I didn't feel like a hero. Still don't. I feel lucky that it wasn't me. Because I had been walking through that area just a few minutes before," he said. "It's difficult knowing some of my friends were there."

21-year-old Calvin Pereda, an army specialist raised in Fayetteville, was killed that day. Underhill's platoon leader, Lt. Nick Vogt, lost both his legs, but survived -- in large part because of Underhill's heroics.

On the day of Biden's announcement of an American withdrawal, Underhill agrees the threat of the Taliban giving safe harbor to terror cells like al Quaeda that struck on 9/11 has diminished dramatically. But, the toll of America's longest war will be felt for decades to come here at home.

Underhill struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his 12-months in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers did as well. Some pf them taking their own lives; others have been killed in risky behavior at home after the war.

"I've lost more friends and colleagues that I served with in Afghanistan since we came home than I lost while we there," he said somberly. "To the veterans out there, if you need help, like I did, go get it. There's no shame in it."

After 20 years in Afghanistan, Underhill says one of the greatest achievements is the dramatic improvement in awareness and funding for the needs of the nation's War on Terror veterans.