This is not a political game

6 mins read

Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion … The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump [in late March]…but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

I’ve been asked about my view on this NYT report. After spending 7 years in 2 wars, it hits home. I had military friends die and be wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as many Afghan and Iraqi civilians.

While I have many members of my family who served in the military—dad and two uncles in Vietnam, grandfather in WW2, cousin in the national guard, brother-in-law as a Navy Corpsman—I am not a military veteran.

But my 10+ years in the State Department included seven consecutive years in Iraq and Afghanistan (2003-2010).

Fallujah Kael Weston

I worked closely with all branches, particularly with Marines, and was responsible for political strategy and engagement with Afghan and Iraqi leaders—governors, mayors, tribal, religious. Taliban machine gun bullets hit a mud wall a few feet away from me (Helmand 2010). I’ve been in a convoy attacked by a suicide car bomber (Khost 2007) & had numerous RPGs, IDF, & bullets hit far too close to Marines & me in both combat zones. (My book has the red details.)

Nawa Canal Kael Weston

After leaving the State Department, I wrote a long, nonfiction book about my experiences in both wars, titled, The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan (Knopf, 2016). Below is an excerpt, pages 371-374. 

“Larry [Commanding General, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade] and I visited the wounded almost nightly, the double, triple, quadruple amputees. Corporals, captains. One named Corporal Nicely—a name that stuck—had survived quadruple amputation. He had a tube in the side of his rib cage, what was left of him under a green blanket with some blood on it—and ‘Fi’ from a ‘Semper Fi’ tattoo inked above, on his pale chest. A medical technician, working on a vein in his arm, said the doctors ‘usually start to cut just below the knee, if they can.’ We were told he had been the lead Marine on the patrol when he stepped on the IED, and was only the second U.S. service member to survive quadruple amputations.

“Looking down, I wanted to look away but did not. I wondered how someone could still be alive after so much damage, so little of him on the bed. He had been twice as tall only hours earlier. Machines buzzed. Tubes pulsed. Digital displays blinked. Transfusion bags dangled. I smelled rubbing-alcohol-like antiseptic. Corporal Nicely’s eyes stayed closed.

“Larry teared up, along with the rest of us. The sergeant major kissed the corporal on the forehead. In my notebook that night I wrote, ‘So sick of this, about this. Don’t want to go to the hospital again.’

“But we did, again and again and again.

“… Some patients made it through until morning, but not all. One shredded Marine died while we stood at his bedside. So young, he went so fast, barely half of him left on the slickened operating room table, white-then-red surgical gloves and shiny, sharp trauma room instruments—a frantic but failing blur of motion under unforgiving bright lights.

“Larry and I entered the rooms of our battlefield wounded for a reason. To witness. To listen. To remember. To Tell.”

Our campaign is supported by veterans of all ranks, corporals and sergeants to captains, colonels, and generals, particularly Marines.

I believe my bio is worth comparing to the incumbent in this regard: Chris Stewart flew high and fast while in the Air Force. Nothing wrong with that but … I lived the Afghanistan & Iraq wars on the ground across seven consecutive years.

There’s a difference.

Chris Stewart talks a lot about China these days … but where is he on Russian influence in our elections? Does he support Trump’s refusal to challenge Putin—& instead shift US policy to the ex-KGB agent’s favor, such as weakening NATO and pullout of US troops from Germany? He excuses Trump’s actions (or non action) at every turn, but what about the 20 dead Americans killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019? He told Fox News that reports of Russian bounties are designed to “embarrass” Trump.

This is not a political game. This is life and death.

Almost being killed while serving our country in the State Department reinforces priorities.

I never want our country to start another unnecessary war. In Congress, I promise to do my part so that Utah service members and their families get the policies that match their sacrifice—starting with re-examining the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force).

On this 4th of July, let’s all commit to working in the weeks and months ahead—all the way to Nov 3rd—to help ensure in a year’s time that we will be a more united and welcoming country.


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A native Utahn, Kael Weston served for over a decade in the U.S. State Department, including seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his government career, specific assignments included: U.S. representative on the UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda/Taliban Sanctions Committee in New York; Iraq team, Political Section, U.S. Mission to the United Nations; State Department Political Adviser to a dozen Marine commanding generals, including during and after the biggest battle of the Iraq War (Fallujah, 2004-2007). In this role, he and Marine leaders were responsible for rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, facilitating the return of hundreds of thousands of Fallujans back into the city, establishing a new city council despite numerous assassinations of local politicians, and working closely with Iraqi governors in Ramadi and central Iraqi government representatives in Baghdad. Several nation-wide elections and a constitutional referendum were held across Iraq during this time.

In eastern Afghanistan’s Khost Province, Kael helped prioritize over $50 million dollars in U.S. reconstruction funds and worked to reintegrate former Taliban fighters in coordination with U.S. military leaders and Khost’s Afghan governor. He also met with a group of former Guantanamo Prison detainees and helped lead U.S. government political engagement with Afghan tribal and religious leaders. In Helmand Province, he worked directly with a Marine commanding general during the 2008-2009 U.S. troop surge that doubled Marine forces in the area from just under 11,000 to almost 20,000.

Kael is the author of the book, The Mirror Test (Knopf, 2016) a New York Times Editors’ Choice (NYT Book Review) and Military Times’ Best Book of the Year. He has taught at the college level in Utah and in Quantico, Virginia, at Marine Corps University, as well as leading seminars at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Kael writes monthly for the Salt Lake Tribune and has contributed to NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, The Hill, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Daily Beast, and other publications.

For Kael Weston’s multi-year service in Fallujah, Iraq, the State Department awarded him the Secretary of State’s Medal for Heroism.

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