Doug, a retired Army major, flew helicopters on two tours in Viet Nam, and then later worked for several years to help vets from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars assimilate into civilian life. He knows first-hand the challenges they face.
I connected with Doug last Saturday, before news broke that Kabul had fallen to the Taliban. I invited Doug to talk asked about parallels between Saigon with helicopters evacuating people from the roof of the American Embassy—what President Joe Biden said would not happen in Afghanistan. As we swapped email, Doug shared that his son, also an officer in the Army, spent two tours in Afghanistan flying the huge Chinook helicopters with their two rotors. Doug flew Hueys and two observation choppers over the jungles of Viet Nam.
Doug and I spent two hours over lunch Saturday (we can continue to recommend Vic’s under its new ownership that’s been since March 2020) and then we connected with his son via Zoom Monday afternoon.
The parallels, beyond the iconic pictures, abound. Miller believes America was winning in Viet Nam until Congress cut off the funding, forcing an immediate troop drawdown. Those decisions prompted the North Vietnamese Army to follow with a full invasion including tanks that rolled up South Viet Nam in about four months and ended in the chaos at the embassy.
Just last month, President Biden was assuring anyone who would listen that the Afghan military and police was up to the task of defending their country. That was before the Bagram airport was closed and American air crews left. That meant any air support—the key advantage for the Afghans—was gone.
For Miller, it was all too familiar.
“I know how much impact this can have on our veterans. I’ve spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours helping them when I worked for the Army as a mentor and contractor serving wounded warriors. For the most part, 95% of them, if their physical condition allowed, they would go back,” he said. He also said that he was amazed how many other people he knew to connect these vets with—something he attributes to his faith in God and the people he had placed in Miller’s life.
When I asked his son how the situation was affecting him, he shared that the impact continued to grow on him. His feelings were mixed. He said that by 2011 (his second tour) he believed nothing was going to change. The objective at the start was achieved fairly quickly, but then the mission changed and by 2011 he thought it was time to get out. “In a way I’ve been looking forward to this day despite how terrible it is,” he said.
He spent his second tour largely flying troops at night in search of high-value targets. During his unusual daytime sorties, he saw just how undeveloped the rural countryside is with herders moving their goats daily in a nomadic existence.
In contrast to Viet Nam where Miller was never stationed more than 20 miles from Saigon so they could easily go there for dinner, his son never saw Kabul or other large cities. He said they were pretty much confined to the safe spaces of the American bases.
Miller, who had flown over Viet Nam on business, returned there in 2008 after his daughter, serving with the State Dept. in Iraq, invited him to go. His takeaway was just how positively people viewed Americans. He said he probably had 30-40 conversations with people who stopped by their table while they were eating outside and engaged. He hopes his daughter will someday be able to return to Iraq to a similar reception.
Looking at the Afghanistan mess, his son views it as a bipartisan failure.
After seeing the developments this week, Doug sent me an email this morning:
“1.President Biden predicted that there would be no comparison with the fall of Saigon. He was right. The collapse of Afghanistan has been far worse. The fall of Afghanistan can be more accurately compared to both the fall of South Vietnam and the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979.
2. This is a failure of intelligence, decision making, planning and execution. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Secretary should all resign either in protest if the president ignored their advice, or in shame if they led the president to the decisions he made.
3. A likely outcome will be that Afghanistan will become the world's largest and most dangerous narco terrorist state.
4. Our enemies are laughing at our demonstrated incompetence. China has just predicted that Taiwan's defenses will collapse if threatened and that the US will not come to their aid. What a coincidence!”