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The Afghanistan War, the longest in American history, changed the men and women who wore a U.S. military uniform, as well as the branches they served.
Early hopes of eliminating a regime that harbored a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of thousands of American civilians and creating a democracy faded into a resurgent Taliban and scenes of panic as Afghans and Americans tried to flee Afghanistan ahead of a U.S. military withdrawal.
It led to a reckoning over mental health for both those who saw combat and those who didn’t, many of whom felt illegitimacy for not sharing the burden of a war that saw increasing numbers of service members surviving grievous injuries but missing parts of their bodies or parts of their souls.
And it’s led to questions about how history will remember the blood and gold spent to try to control a country famously called “the graveyard of empires.”
In this series, Military.com outlines how the 20-year war reshaped the U.S. military.
In civilian life, no one prays for a hurricane or a home invader to kick down the front door. Average people don't normally yearn for dangerous situations. Longing for a gunfight with the enemy feels wrong, but it's relatively common among those in the military, especially within the combat arms.
The war in Afghanistan -- by far the longest in U.S. history -- is all but over, aside from the frantic evacuation of tens of thousands of Americans, Afghans and other civilians from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
But it has changed the U.S. military, in ways that will linger. Those who saw the war up close -- including veterans of Afghanistan and current and retired generals and senior officials -- agree that the war didn't break the military. But it did bend it, testing the men and women sent to fight, and the weapons and hardware they relied upon to survive in Afghanistan's harsh regions.
As the 20-year war in Afghanistan goes through its final days, will Marines remember, memorialize and revere any chapter of the conflict? For many, there's one moment in a campaign that has proven light on triumphant events that stands out – Sangin.