HARTSELLE, Ala. — After 20 years of U.S. Warfare in Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the country fell back under Taliban rule in a matter of days, leaving many veterans and their families feeling helpless, and even angry.
Lt. Col. Brandon Bradley has served 12 years active duty, 18 total years of service. After returning from the Middle East he says he struggled to find his purpose. Years later, he would found the Hartselle chapter of a combat recovery program called Reboot that helps veterans find meaning after the chaos.
“As a veteran, you have to have something to fall back on, you have to have that purpose. I think at Reboot, we show you tips on how to refocus your purpose,” Bradley said.
He says as the U.S. watches Afghanistan fall to Taliban rule, some veterans find themselves backpedaling.
“You have something what’s going on today like in Afghanistan, and you see that purpose that you had over there almost erased, and veterans are angry,” he said.
He himself has been deeply impacted by the situation.
“One of my interpreters had called me for help, and wanted me to send him a letter to get them out because this was happening,” Bradley said. “I was frustrated because there is no way to–my hands are tied.”
He says turning to a friend who would allow him to vent about the helpless feeling was crucial.
“He said, ‘hey man, let’s talk.’ I walked out on my porch and he just let me vent to my frustrations of not being able to help this guy who helped me out when I was over there just to get out where it’s safe,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do for a veteran is just let them talk it out.”
He says Reboot teaches veterans the importance of speaking about trauma; run by veterans for veterans, he says reboot offers a common ground.
“If you don’t get it off your chest, you’re going to turn to alcohol, you’re going to turn to drugs, just as something to make you not feel that way, but if there’s a group of other people who’s been through that, they can get it off their chest here and feel better,” he said.
He knows not every struggling veteran is ready to open up or join a group like Reboot, so he has advice for their loved ones: be present, be patient, and let them know their feelings are valid.
“I think a lot of them think, ‘man I did all I could do over there and now it’s for nothing, but that’s not true,” he said. “For 20 years, they stood in the gap between us and terrorism and that was enough.”
Reboot has also launched a program for First Responders as well, and Bradley highly recommends it, as many first responders must revisit physical locations that served as the source of trauma on a daily basis.