Representatives Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05), David Schweikert (R-AZ-06), and Debbie Lesko (R-AZ-08) are original cosponsors on legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to the 13 service members killed in Kabul last week. The Congressional Gold Medal is widely considered the highest congressional expression of appreciation on behalf of the nation.
The 13 service members were Johanny Rosario Pichardo, Nicole Gee, Darin Hoover, Hunter Lopez, Daegan Page, Humberto Sanchez, David Espinoza, Jared M. Schmitz, Rylee Mccollum, Dylan Merola, Kareem Nikoui, Maxton Soviak, and Ryan Knauss.
Representative Lisa McClain (R-MI-10) introduced the legislation on Tuesday. As McClain noted in her legislation, the 13 service members’ deaths marked the single deadliest day in the Afghanistan war in over 10 years.
“The American service members went above and beyond the call of duty to protect citizens of the United States and our allies to ensure they are brought to safety in an extremely dangerous situation as the Taliban regained control over Afghanistan,” read the legislation. “The American service members exemplified extreme bravery and valor against armed enemy combatants. The American service members dedicated their lives and their heroism deserves great honor.”
If awarded, the medals would be given to the Smithsonian Institution to memorialize the service members and the day of the Kabul attack: August 26.
A total of 150 other representatives have signed onto the legislation: 129 Republicans, and 21 Democrats.
The representatives to sign on were Don Young (R-AK), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Jerry Carl (R-AL), Gary Palmer (R-AL), Barry Moore (R-AL), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Bruce Westermann (R-AR), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Young Kim (R-CA), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Mike Garcia (R-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Jay Obernolte (R-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Greg Steube (R-FL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Al Lawson (D-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Kat Cammack (R-FL), Scott Franklin (R-FL), Brian Mast (R-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Maria Salazar (R-FL), Byron Donalds (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Jody Hice (R-GA), Rick Allen (R-GA), Drew Ferguson (R-GA), Buddy Carter (R-GA), Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), Randy Feenstra (R-IA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Mike Bost (R-IL), Jim Banks (R-IN-), Larry Buschon (R-IN-), Andre Carson (D-IN), Russ Fulcher (R-IN), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Victoria Spartz (R-IN), Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN), Greg Pence (R-IN), Tracey Mann (R-KS), Jake LaTurner (R-KS), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Garret Graves (R-LA), Julia Letlow (R-LA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jared Golden (D-ME), Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Peter Meijer (R-MI), Tim Walberg (R-MI), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Elise Slotkin (D-MI), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Ann Wagner (R-MO), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Jason Smith (R-MO), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Michael Guest (R-MS), Don Bacon (R-NE-), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Adrian Smith (R-NE), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Richard Hudson (R-NC), Greg Murphy (R-NC), David Rouzer (R-NC), Ted Budd (R-NC), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Yvette Herrell (R-NM), Mark Amodei (R-NV), Ruben Gallego (D-NV), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Chris Jacobs (R-NY), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Joseph Morelle (D-NY), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Warren Davidson (R-OH), Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Bob Latta (R-OH), Dave Joyce (R-OH), Mike Turner (R-OH), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Stephanie Bice (R-OK-), Tom Cole (R-OK), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), G.T. Thompson (R-PA), Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Dusty Johnson (R- SD), Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), David Kustoff (R-TN), Tim Burchett (R-TN), Lance Gooden (R-TX), August Pfluger (R-TX), Randy Weber (R-TX), Roger Williams (R-TX), Beth Van Duyne (R-TX), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Pat Fallon (R-TX), Blake Moore (R-UT), Burgess Owens (R-UT), John Curtis (R-UT), Bob Good (R-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), Bryan Steil (R-WI), Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), David McKinley (R-WV), Carol Miller (R-WV), Alex Mooney (R-WV), and Liz Cheney (R-WY).
Last week’s announcement by Gov. Doug Ducey that all state buildings are to lower their flags to half-staff through Aug. 30 in honor of U.S. service members recently killed in Afghanistan has drawn renewed attention to President Joe Biden’s connection to Afghanistan and the Arizona National Guard.
In February 2008, then-Senator Joe Biden, along with Senator John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, were touring Afghanistan when their helicopters made an emergency landing in a mountainous area during a blizzard.
A rescue team with soldiers from the Arizona National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry Regiment “Bushmasters” was sent out to make the treacherous trek from Bagram Airfield to the landing site, according to a news article later posted on the National Guard’s website.
The article noted that the rescue mission was conducted by Combined Joint Task Force-82 which consisted of a 1/158th platoon and other servicemembers. The soldiers were not initially aware of the identity of the VIPs on the helicopters, Maj. John Bozicevic wrote.
Despite the intense weather, limited visibility, and hazardous route, the rescue team found the helicopters and convoyed the senators back to base. Other soldiers remained with the helicopters and crews for more than 15 hours in stormy weather.
Public records show the Arizona National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry arrived in Afghanistan in April 2007 and returned to Arizona the month after the 2008 rescue of the senators. The unit suffered two casualty while deployed.
Ten years later, the 1/158th was deployed back to Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The Bushmasters returned home in May 2019. Several other Arizona National Guard units have been deployed to Afghanistan over the last 20 years.
Kerry later became U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017, while Hagel served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2013 to 2015. Biden became Obama’s vice president and was sworn in as President in January, after which he has become a frequent target of Ducey’s.
The governor’s order to lower flags to half-staff called out the Biden White House for how the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has been handled.
“As we mourn the dead, we must also recognize the context for this terrible attack,” Ducey noted. “American troops have fought, bled and died in Afghanistan for two decades to keep this country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. We are now seeing in real time how the recent action to withdraw from Afghanistan has made America and the world less safe.”
Ducey also expressed his displeasure with the Biden Administration earlier this month when he announced the extension of the Arizona National Guard’s southern border security support mission through September 2022 with $25 million in state funding. He noted that law enforcement officials are overwhelmed, and the situation is out of control.
“It’s clear that this White House has neither the ability nor the desire to address the border disaster — a crisis of their own making,” Ducey said. “This situation is the direct result of reckless policies and failed communication by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.”
More than 150 Arizona National Guardsmen are serving along with local and state law enforcement agencies in border communities. Guardsmen are assisting those agencies with medical services in detention facilities, data analysis, camera maintenance and surveillance, and logistical and administrative support, according to Ducey.
“The brave men and women of the Arizona National Guard are standing in the gaps,” Ducey said. “Their mission directly contributes to the success of law enforcement officers working to maintain law and order on Arizona’s southern border. I’m grateful to all those who serve our state and are working day and night to keep Arizonans safe.”
In April, Ducey declared a state of emergency regarding Arizona’s shared southern border with Mexico and deployed the Arizona National Guard with $2.5 million in funding for the mission. Then in June, the governor signed state budget legislation which included $25 million in additional funding for the Arizona National Guard’s border mission.
The budget also provided $30 million to law enforcement agencies to assist with their border security operations along with funds for the state’s Border Strike Force.
Data released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shows there were more than 212,000 official encounters with illegal immigrants along the country’s southern border in July. That was up from 188,829 in June and represents a 21-year record high.
DHS records also show that illegal immigrant encounters have gone up every month since President Biden took office in January.
Amid the turmoil of the Biden Administration’s Afghanistan Crisis, civilians are stepping up to save the lives of American citizens and Afghans who assisted our country throughout the war. State Representative Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix) is one of those civilians.
AZ Free News reached out to Kaiser after obtaining his press release asserting that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris bore the blame for the Taliban’s takeover. In that statement, Kaiser mentioned Afghan nationals he’d befriended who were still in Afghanistan. We reached out to Kaiser to elaborate; it was then the representative revealed that he and others have been busy with extraction efforts for those Afghans who served alongside American soldiers.
Kaiser explained that this effort began when he received a message from one of the Afghan nationals he’d befriended, following the Taliban takeover.
“We have two interpreters that we worked over there that were still over there when all this started. I was Facebook friends for a lot of years with one of them. He was always in Kabul – he’s got kids now and is married,” explained Kaiser. “When all this fell apart, all of a sudden he was emailing me[.]”
At that point, Kaiser and fellow service members reached out to Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ-06) and some active duty members for help. In the meantime, the coalition got to work pulling together the special immigrant visa paperwork necessary.
“I’m definitely just working as a civilian through a congressman. That’s my only lever right now,” said Kaiser. “We’re lucky that some of us that were in the unit together have stayed in the military.”
As of this publication, the Afghan national and his family have made it safely to the U.S.
However, their coalition’s work isn’t done. This week, another Afghan ally reached out to Kaiser.
“I got a phone call and I saw on the phone the caller ID that it’s from Afghanistan. I normally wouldn’t answer in the middle of a meeting, but I did,” explained Kaiser. “[It was] another interpreter stuck in Kabul with his family. You could hear the fear in his voice[.]”
Kaiser explained that these people they’re saving aren’t just attempting to get to America – they’re those who fought alongside American soldiers, making the difficult decision to leave their homeland for the safety of themselves and their families. He emphasized that this is the purpose of asylum.
“These are people that are friends and stood next to us in a warzone and are hunted actively for standing with us,” explained Kaiser. “There are people being disparaging about this – calling them the ‘unwashed masses.’ I can tell you – there’s ten Afghans coming to Arizona. Five of them are from two different families and four are individual males. They all had special immigrant visa paperwork – there’s a lot that goes into [that paperwork]. These are people who have special immigrant visas, who are already people who worked alongside us [in the military]. These are people that stood next to us, faced death and dismemberment and are now being hunted. They deserve the same respect as our service members.”
Kaiser explained further that the Afghan nationals, such as the interpreter currently needing help, were the ones who ensured the safety of American soldiers.
“These interpreters kept us safe. They didn’t just translate for us. They were cultural advisors, they were local nationals from Kabul [who] grew up in Afghanistan,” said Kaiser. “They filled in a lot of cultural gaps that we didn’t get because our training was pretty poor going over there.”
This wasn’t Kaiser’s first time assisting Afghan nationals. Kaiser mentioned that he’d assisted in extracting another friend years ago – one who’d lost both legs and an arm serving alongside American soldiers. That friend is now happily married with several daughters.
Kaiser understands that the issue is controversial, but these aren’t just any Afghans. They’re the people who were willing to sacrifice for the American cause.
“I’m a conservative, and I know people say that loosely and easily. I understand it’s going to be controversial – I understand where they are coming from,” said Kaiser. “If I lose an election saying this, so be it – this is more important than that. This is life and death, you know?”
Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff through August 30, 2021 in honor of the U.S. service members killed during the terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The governor encouraged his fellow Arizonans to participate in this tribute.
“Today is a tragic day for our nation. I am sending my deepest condolences and prayers to the loved ones of the U.S. forces killed and wounded in today’s terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. I am horrified by this attack on our brave service members as well as other innocent civilians in the area.
“Arizona joins all Americans in condemning this attack in the strongest possible terms. There are no words to express the depth of Americans’ sorrow and anger for this loss of life.
“As we mourn the dead, we must also recognize the context for this terrible attack. American troops have fought, bled and died in Afghanistan for two decades to keep this country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. We are now seeing in real time how the recent action to withdraw from Afghanistan has made America and the world less safe.”