Oklahoma veteran reflects on war in Afghanistan and 9/11 attacks
On a camping trip with his family 20 years ago, Aaron Ray Vaughan and his father-in-law went fishing early in the morning on the shores of Lake Copan.
It was perfect. The sun was shining and her mother and sisters would join them on the boat later in the day.
But then they heard his mother screaming about 150 meters away. Horrible screams. Something was wrong. They ran to the camper van where they found her crying.
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She pointed to the television and they saw plumes of smoke as the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.
âOur hearts have collapsed. I remember my heart sank in my stomach, and I remember looking at my mom and dad for a minute, and I said, “I’m going to go to war with you all.”
Preparing for war after the September 11 attacks
At that point, Vaughan, 17, went from boy to man. He had just completed his basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., In the Oklahoma Army National Guard. He now knew that his military service would be something completely different from what he envisioned in peacetime.
âI realized that there were bad guys and bad guys and what I vowed to do was stop them from harming innocent people,â he said. “Everything I loved and everything that mattered came to the fore and I knew I had to go stand up for it.”
He had signed up with his parents’ blessing, believing it would point him in a better direction and expand his world outside of rural Oklahoma. He would also have the option of going to college and getting paid, so he decided to give Uncle Sam a chance.
As he and his family tried to digest the overwhelming news, they prayed. But at the same time, Vaughan, like so many others, was angry.
âI had this young anger in me that wanted to do something,â he said.
“Angry and ready to fight”
Immediately after September 11, Vaughan trained regularly at Camp Gruber with the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment for the worst situations imaginable to prepare for war. He found out they were deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. He was reserved but ready.
âI wanted to see someone pay for costing so many American lives and threatening our freedom at home,â he said. “It overshadowed a lot of the worry I had.”
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As soon as he got off the plane in Kabul in the middle of the night, everything was different, especially the smell of the air.
âI had a vigilance within me that I don’t think I had in my whole life. I remember thinking to myself, ‘You’re not in Kansas anymore. You are here, you are in it. That’s what you trained for, âhe said.
Vaughan was on a rapid reaction force. His unit responded to any distress call from Allied forces and provided convoy security during missions. One of those missions was to protect, liberate and train the Afghan soldiers who were committed to defend their country.
âI remember thinking specifically in my mind that I am here to help these people as much as I am to help my people at home,â he said. “It took a few months for this to set in because I was so angry and ready to fight.”
From his experience, it seemed that the Afghans were open to the American presence and were doing their best to live their lives and do their best for their communities.
“I tried to be as kind and hospitable as they were to us, for the most part, to have foreign soldiers in your country,” he said.
He and his comrades spoke with the men about their family life. They played soccer in the streets with the children. Many of them would be over 20 by now and he wonders how and what they are doing now. Are they okay? What are they thinking about? Do they even remember why they were there?
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“It’s really costing you a lot”
Women and girls struck a chord with him. They did not have the same freedom to live their lives as his mother and sisters. He takes it even more personally now as the father of three daughters and a son he shares with his wife, Kelsey.
âIt really has an impact on you as a man,â Vaughan said. “You want to help the men around these young girls and women understand that they have the tools, they have the freedom to raise them and take care of them just the same.”
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Still, Vaughan said they never knew who to trust. There was always a sense of strangeness as they risked everything to offer the freedoms we have in America to people who ultimately had different values ââand ideas about the world.
They came from tribes all over the country and appeared to be loyal to those tribes, with radicalization being more of a last resort, he said.
âAs a soldier we really had to understand them and teach them to come together and unify, and as we are tragically seeing now, it is not so,â he said. âIt seems to me that the men there are not rooted in the knowledge or the willingness to stand up and fight for their own freedoms. I know it sounds harsh, but they almost seem to curl up in the tyrannical oppression of the Taliban and ISIS and other groups of that nature and that’s not what we taught there.
“Part of me just wants to see the men of this country stand up and say enough is enough and start standing up for their communities, their families and their children at home and for their own country. I pray for that.”
In his opinion, they were given all the tools in the world to defend their families and their country with 20 years of American blood, sweat and tears and lives. Vaughan strongly disagrees with how the United States pulled out of Afghanistan, but said he believed it had to end eventually.
âThere must have come a time when we handed it over to the men and women of the country and said, ‘Look, this is yours – defend it at all costs. Now we don’t see it. It is heartbreaking. It is overwhelming. “Vaughan said.
Yet there are successes to never be forgotten and for which to be grateful. America and her allies have protected our homeland. Since September 11, 2001, there has been no other foreign jihadist attack on American soil.
Life after coming home
Vaughan continued to serve until 2013. Returning home from the hardships of war, Vaughan sees things from a different perspective and still full of hope.
The discovery of her inner strength changed her life. There is no challenge in everyday life that cannot be overcome, and he teaches it to his children in their schoolwork and with their friends and acquaintances.
âThere is nothing in this life that we cannot handle,â he said. âThere is nothing that we cannot stand and overcome,â he said. â(The war) gave me a feeling and a sense of pride and understanding that there are things that are worth fighting for and things that we have that we should not take for granted. ”
Born and raised in Oklahoma, Vaughan today works as a pipeline controller at Phillips 66 and before that he was a police officer in Bartlesville and Dewey.
He has no connection to the legendary Vaughan Brothers of Texas, but it is no exaggeration to wonder if he is. He’s had a guitar in his hands since he was eight, recorded in Nashville, and performed across the country.
He was the lead singer of NewKings, a Christian alternative band, for 10 years and is now a solo artist.
Her debut album, “Sparks”, will be released in October with her faith and life experiences deeply rooted in her Red Dirt songs. Vaughan now has a peaceful life, but the soldier in him who helped protect the American way of life is never gone.
In his new song, “Old Man”, he shares it with the chorus “Don’t wake the old man”.
Vaughan’s upcoming performance dates and album information can be found at aaronrayvaughanmusic.com.