Nineteen years ago on Wednesday, a generation of Americans deployed to Afghanistan to root out the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks, believing that by fighting in the country more than 7,400 miles away, they would spare their children the need to do so too.
But as the U.S. war in Afghanistan begins its 20th year, some of those same service members have watched as their sons and daughters have deployed to continue the fight.
“When we started this, people asked why I was going, and my response was, ‘So my sons don’t have to fight this war,’” said Master Sgt. Trevor deBoer, who has deployed to Afghanistan three times with the 20th Special Forces Group since 2002.
Nearly two decades later, deBoer’s son, Spc. Payton Sluss, also served in Afghanistan — including at Forward Operating Base Fenty, north of the city of Jalalabad, where deBoer had served.
“My feet were walking the same land you were,” Sluss said to his father in a joint phone interview with Stars and Stripes.
The war, and Afghanistan itself, were very different when Sluss arrived in 2018. The U.S. had shifted its focus from eliminating 9/11 masterminds al-Qaida, who had been given safe haven by the ruling Taliban, to rebuilding the country and training Afghan forces. At the same time, the Taliban regained strength and launched an insurgency against the American-led coalition.