Editor’s Note:

Here is an American military officer’s first hand account of war, how it’s fought and how it ends.

Nick Willard is the pen name of a service member heading to Afghanistan on one of the final deployments in the closing days of America’s longest war. He will write what he sees in an ongoing feature for The Daily Beast that will appear as regularly as his schedule allows.

To speak openly and freely, to tell the American people and the world of readers on the web about the truth as he finds it, he has chosen not to use his real name.


I’m going to Afghanistan again. The long war is almost over and I’ll be part of how it ends.

This time I’ll write about it.

I know what the next few weeks are all about: run through my military train ups; pack boots and body armor in a duffel, books and iPod in the backpack at my side; set aside clothes for the arid heat and others for the mountain frost; spend fewer and fewer hours at home the closer I get to deployment day; feel the dull pain of leaving my family grow so bad I want to just be overseas already so I can stop worrying about missing them and start counting the days till I can see them again.

Soon, I’ll leave my family. They know it too. We’ve been through this before.

Right now, 13 years in to America’s longest war, with its end scheduled for Dec 31, 2014, Afghanistan barely registers in the background of the national conversation. It’s different for us, the 33,000 U.S. service members still there, trying to make sense of our mission, keep our buddies alive, and reckon with what we have accomplished and how we will leave things.

Most American forces are headed home, but thousands of others—including me—are headed back to war, against the flow of the drawdown.

In many ways, we’re the closers, the clean-up crew. As Dec. 31, 2014 approaches, we’ll witness the politics and posturing morph into policy as the U.S. presence either shifts to some residual force or goes to zero. We’ll breathe the ambiguity until the decision is made. We’ll listen to our commanders say the mission is clear. We may hear the messaging echo the final days of the Iraq war with the hollow talk of honoring the “blood and treasure” invested in Afghanistan, and how the last units will “turn out the lights.”

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