by Jim Boyle
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., took questions on Friday from The View on ABC and in Otsego at a soccer complex created and run by the Elk River-Rogers VFW Post.
One topic on the minds of the hosts of the The View and Post 5518’s membership was the pullout of American troops in Afghanistan and the possible fallout for American soldiers and refugees.
Klobuchar was invited by the post to tour the complex, being that it is a rare operation for a VFW to undertake. She was also asked to field questions from her veteran constituents.
“As a Vietnam veteran we are concerned about the way that we left Afghanistan,” said Jim Hesselgrave, a post member and former state VFW officer. “It was a lot like when we left Vietnam, and that sits pretty heavy with a lot of us Vietnam veterans.
“We’re hoping that the government and service officers and everybody will be on top of that, so these kids won’t go through the same feelings and mistrust that we went through.”
Klobuchar told Hesselgrave and the other dozen or so VFW Post members, “That’s a really good point.”
She went on to say: “We had a lot of soldiers out there at the end that were in Kuwait and helped out. It was so hard to lose the soldiers that we did, the number of Marines. That was really hard.”
She said Congress is doing several things right in the aftermath of the exit from Afghanistan. She said one thing is looking back on what happened and holding hearings.
“The military explained what they would have done differently (during hearings),” she said. “I felt they were honest and that was important.”
Klobuchar said America has learned a lot since the Vietnam War.
“One of the things we have learned since Vietnam is we can have disagreements about policy, but you never take it out on the warriors on the front line,” Klobuchar said.
Dennis Maddox, a post member and a judge advocate for the state VFW organization, said it’s suicides he’s worried about. He’s involved with an organization called the 23rd Veteran that helps military and veterans who are living with trauma in hopes of turning the tide on suicides among veterans. The organization was started when the number of veterans lost to suicide on a daily basis averaged 22.
He said it’s difficult to hear the pullout of Afghanistan likened to Saigon, the capital of Vietnam.
“Some have called this Saigon on steroids,” Maddox said.
One of the veterans in attendance recalled a VFW event in the state in which meals were being served to veterans and their families.
When this individual thanked the Vietnam veteran for the meal, he said: “When we came back, people weren’t making steaks for us like we are for them and the families of soldiers serving. They were throwing tomatoes at us, and I don’t ever want that to happen again.”
Klobuchar went on to say what comes next in the wake of the pullout from Afghanistan will be important.
“We can’t change how it was done, but what comes next is not only looking at our policies for other places, but it’s also making sure we have people there for counterterrorism, ... so we’re watching,” she said. “Hopefully, we have more information than we did when 9/11 happened.
“The fact that we have that plan in place, we in Congress are going to be pushing on to make sure (we’re on top of) the terrorism front.”
The third thing is the handling of Afghan refugees, starting with getting them vetted.
“I know a lot of them served as interpreters,” she said. “We don’t have a big Afghan population but we will get some.”
“That will be important for this healing,” she said. “I know it was hard to watch for so many. I made the connection to Vietnam in my head, but not to the actual soldiers.”
VFW Post 5518 Member David Boily asked about the refugees that are being sent to Fort McCoy.
Klobuchar said the refugees will be proportioned to states based on Afghan populations. She said Minnesota has a large Hmong population so it has gotten a lot of Hmong refugees.
Klobuchar said some of the refugees have already found jobs in America.
“Some are very educated, speak English beautifully and that’s why they were interpreters and the like,” she said, noting it’s easier to vet an Afghan refugee than, say, a Syrian refugee.
“I would think they will all find jobs,” Klobuchar said.
Boily quipped if she knew of any with mechanical ability to send them his way to talk.
Klobuchar was asked about Haitian immigrants and Afghan immigrants and about the disparities between the treatment of the two groups on The View.
Klobuchar said she has long been a proponent of upping the numbers of refugees — Haitian or others. “Immigrants don’t diminish America. They are America.”
She said she favors expanding temporary status when immigrants flee dangerous situations and provide a path to citizenship.
“We just did that with Liberians in Minnesota,” she said. “I view it as an economic necessity and a moral imperative.”