Locals reflect on service in America’s longest war

The end of the US engagement in Afghanistan last month after nearly two decades has likely prompted many deployed there to reflect on their experiences during America’s longest war.

The US Department of Defense estimates that 832,000 US troops served in Afghanistan. An Associated Press report seeking to quantify the costs of the war in Afghanistan – both in human lives and in dollars – said there were 2,448 US servicemen killed there as of April. At least 13 more were added to this toll following a suicide bombing attack on August 26 outside Kabul airport as evacuations were underway in the final days of the presence of the American troops.

3,846 US contractors, 1,144 other Allied military personnel, including other NATO member states, 444 aid workers and 72 journalists were also killed. About 66,000 Afghan soldiers and police have died, along with 47,245 Afghan civilians and 51,191 Taliban and other opposition fighters.

Justin Doerfler sits on the deck of his rural home in Brainerd in early September 2021 to share his experiences as a combat veteran in Afghanistan following the US withdrawal. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Closer to home, KROCnews.com reports that 29 Minnesotans were among the war dead, including Spc. George W. Cauley, a 24 year old from Walker who died in October 2009 when his vehicle was hit by a bomb. Minnesota National Guard combat veteran Justin Doerfler de Brainerd, who shared his story with the Dispatch in the Sunday, September 26, 2021 edition, served with Cauley. Doerfler’s truck is flagged with Cauley’s name along with the names of other members of his company who have died since their deployment.

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Although the Crow Wing County Veterans Services Office was unable to provide an exact number of residents who served specifically in Afghanistan, Veterans Services Officer Erik Flowers reported a total of 2,301 veterans in their system who served in the Persian Gulf War. This includes those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the First Gulf War.

With patches in the foreground, Tim Bray shares stories from his deployment with the US Navy in Afghanistan during an interview in late August at the Brainerd Dispatch.  Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

With patches in the foreground, Tim Bray shares stories from his deployment with the US Navy in Afghanistan during an interview in late August at the Brainerd Dispatch. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

The war was not just about combat – an important part of the American effort was to establish infrastructure and help train Afghan soldiers and police. The engineering and infrastructure management skills of Crosslake man and Navy veteran Tim Bray brought him to the Middle Eastern country this way as an individual reinforcement of the United States Navy. In the Sunday edition, Bray recalls his deployment as a rewarding experience during which he learned leadership while stationed at Herat Base in western Afghanistan.

The two local veterans featured here have different histories and disparate experiences, but what they have in common is the military service they are proud of. Here are their stories.

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