A marine reflects on Afghanistan

Published 11:56 am Friday, February 14, 2014

Taylor Flowers is a Richmond firefighter now, but part of him will always be back in the war on terror in the Middle East.

Taylor Flowers, then a lance corporal, in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2004. -- COURTESY | TAYLOR FLOWERS

Taylor Flowers, then a lance corporal, in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2004. — COURTESY | TAYLOR FLOWERS

He loves his wife, Sara, and their three boys, the twins who are six months old and their big brother who is four.

But Taylor, a staff sergeant honorably discharged for a few years now, will always be a Marine.

I watched him grow up in Courtland and I watched him go off to war, tall and tough with a gung-ho grin. He served first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. I worried with his parents, my friends Bill and Brenda, when Taylor kept going back for more, and I rejoiced with them when he returned home, especially when he did so for good. He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve in 2011.

Last week, with all the talk about what our country should do in Afghanistan, I called Taylor, who’s 30, seeking answers. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, where his company’s job was to assist in security for the presidential election, then the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai. Karzai was “pretty slick,” Taylor said, knowing just what to say to the American leaders when they were there and just what to say to the tribal leaders when the American leaders left.

Like any Marine, Taylor’s main objective was keeping himself and his fellow Marines alive. But now, back home, he can look at the broader picture.

“It doesn’t really surprise me, the way things are going. The politics kind of takes control,” Taylor said. “When you politicize the conflict of war, the people who lose are the guys on the ground, the mission kind of gets lost. And as leaders figure out how they want to accomplish something, guys are getting killed.”

Being in Afghanistan, with its tribal culture, was like going back in time, he said. “Their parents fought, their grandparents fought. It would be like if somebody invaded the back hills of West Virginia and the locals knew all the hills, all the hideouts.”

President Obama, Taylor said, should “redefine what the mission is. What’s our point of being there? Are we there for stability in the region? If that’s the case, you should communicate that. You should either be all in or not there at all, have a clear mission.”

Taylor was a student at Longwood College when he enlisted in the Marines in 2003. His grandfather Bruce, a Marine who served in the Pacific in World War II, proudly came to Taylor’s graduation from the brutal basic training on Parris Island.

Bruce Flowers died in 2004. Taylor was in Afghanistan. His superiors offered him a flight home to see his family. Taylor declined. He figured his grandfather wouldn’t have wanted him to leave his fellow Marines.

Taylor went on to serve two combat tours in Iraq. There, he saw buddies killed and maimed. He sustained a minor injury himself and spent a little time in a medical unit among comrades who had lost arms and legs.

These days, Taylor occasionally thinks about honor, his fellow Marines and family. He misses the guys he went through hell with. If his sons want to be Marines, Taylor said, he’d support them. “But I’d tell them to go to college first. Officers get better pay and living quarters,” he said with a laugh.

He hopes the war on terror in the Middle East is over by the time his boys come of age. But he doesn’t see stability coming anytime soon to Afghanistan.

“We went over there, both places, Iraq and Afghanistan, with the best of intentions,” Taylor said. “I don’t think we need to be there forever, but the guys and girls on the ground did a great job.”

JOHN RAILEY, who grew up in Courtland, is the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal.