Don’t call war in Afghanistan ‘a waste,’ says Jennie Taylor, widow of the North Ogden mayor who was killed there

Service members who fight for their country ‘don’t only do that if victory is guaranteed,’ she said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Jennie Taylor speaks in honor of those who serve in the military, including her late husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, the former mayor of North Ogden and a major in the Utah National Guard, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2018, during a ceremony at Fort Douglas Cemetery on Monday, May 27, 2019.

Jennie Taylor doesn’t want to hear anyone call the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan — a war that took her husband’s life — a waste.

“We have to be very careful in how we word this as a waste,” Taylor, widow of North Ogden mayor and Utah National Guard Maj. Brent Taylor, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday — the day after Taliban forces swept into Kabul, the Afghan capital, and took the presidential palace.

Maj. Taylor, 39, was killed in Afghanistan in November 2018, shot by an Afghan commando in the unit Taylor was helping to train.

(Utah National Guard) This undated photo provided by the Utah National Guard shows Maj. Brent Taylor of the Utah National Guard. Taylor, former mayor of North Ogden, died in Afghanistan on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, City Councilman Phillip Swanson said. Taylor was deployed to Afghanistan in January with the Utah National Guard for what was expected to be a 12-month tour of duty. Taylor previously served two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.

For his widow, seeing news reports of the Afghan government forces crumbling to the Taliban, she said, “is painful to watch.”

What’s also painful, Taylor said, is reaction on social media and TV commentators that “this has all been a waste, that American lives have been lost for no point. And I just don’t agree with that.”

Taylor said that people commenting on the Afghan government’s collapse should draw a distinction between policy makers in the Pentagon and White House, and the members of the U.S. armed services who carried out their leaders’ decisions.

Those troops, “the men and women who have fought and continue to fight for our country, don’t only do that if victory is guaranteed,” she said.

Taylor said her husband, who served in Afghanistan in 2012 before his second deployment in 2017 and 2018, “was very aware that there would be political difficulties in taking down terrorism. He didn’t go into that war with the guarantee of, ‘I’m going to go hold my gun and wave my flag and win for sure.’ But he went anyway. That is part of the conversation we need to make sure doesn’t get lost here.”

Josh Hansen, an Iraq War veteran and co-founder of the Utah veterans’ group Continue Mission, said watching Kabul fall to the Taliban reminds him of his time trying to hold the city of Fallujah, which was later turned over to Iraqi forces and was briefly taken over by the terrorist group known as the Islamic State.

“It gets frustrating,” Hansen said Monday. “It makes you wonder why we go through what we go through, and then how the situation’s happened.”

Hansen said Continue Mission began in 2014 as a way to prevent suicide among veterans — by bringing veterans together to do activities, “getting out of the house and doing stuff together,” to avoid isolation and depression.

“Basically, it’s about keeping connection with each other,” Hansen said. “It gives the vets time to talk to each other, and support one another.”

Taylor said she hoped Americans don’t place blame for the Afghan government’s fall on the U.S. service members who were stationed there.

“For years, I have been proud of the fact that our generation has done a better job handling our soldiers than in the Vietnam era,” Taylor said. “When our soldiers are deployed [now], we celebrate when they come home, we throw a parade, we hang their banners in the streets, and we’re so proud to be Americans.. … If we say we lost the war in Afghanistan, are we going to now treat our service members like Vietnam veterans? Please tell me no. Please tell me we’ve learned better than that.”

Taylor said she hoped the fall of Afghanistan “is eye-opening for most of America. I hope it makes us all take a deep look inward, and then reach outward and try to connect with each other — and try to be part of the solution, rather than the finger-pointing problem.”