A group of U.S. Army Soldiers line up to board a C-130 Hercules at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Nov. 30, 2008.

A group of U.S. Army Soldiers line up to board a C-130 Hercules at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Nov. 30, 2008. U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez

Our Nation Needs Leaders. Veterans Must Rise and Serve Again

I am a soldier and now I’m running for the U.S. Senate because that is where the battle is.

There are moments that change your life, and the fall of Afghanistan is one of them. It was a tipping point for me and why I am now running for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina.

I was disgusted watching the efforts of my brothers and sisters in arms and our Afghan allies swept away by an utter failure of strategic leadership two decades in the making.  

This is personal. I served on the ground as a commander in Afghanistan during the harsh surge years of 2009 and 2010. I endured regular rocket attacks with my company, rendered four-second delayed salutes to our fallen heroes at sunrise ramp ceremonies, and held the hands of little Afghan girls who skipped alongside me in sheer joy when we delivered school supplies and other goodwill items from generous Americans.

Through the military’s ethos of selfless service, I had the good fortune of being transformed into the better version of myself—a path that began when I enlisted after 9/11, because of 9/11. When I watched the horrific terrorist attacks on our nation 20 years ago, I knew I needed to do something. No one does that to my country. 

But this year, the anniversary of Sept. 11 hurt in new ways because of the fall of Afghanistan, ways that I never could have imagined or anticipated. Like many of my brothers and sisters, I have intense and lingering emotions, ranging from betrayal to rage and heartbreak. We, the American military, do not leave anyone behind on the battlefield. That is not us. It is contrary to our values. And yet this is exactly what happened in Afghanistan. 

It's not just Afghanistan, though. Americans are surrounded by crises, from Russian cyberattacks on our energy infrastructure to our shrinking middle class and our crumbling education system—all exacerbated by a lack of leadership in Washington. Today, I find myself in the exact same place as I did on 9/11, compelled to do something, saying to myself, “No one does this to our country.”

America can and must do better. I refuse to put my lukewarm support behind lackluster career politicians who keep showing up on the ballot, year after year, making promises to us during their campaigns and then forgetting about us after Election Day. Like you, I am tired of being asked to choose between the lesser of two evils in the voting booth. We need leaders who have had their skin in the game. 

I know where to find leaders. They are the men and women I served with in uniform. Because unlike most career politicians, veterans have put their lives on the line for their country by supporting and defending our Constitution. Veterans know how to bring people together from all political stripes to accomplish a mission. And, perhaps most importantly, we run towards the fight.

For all of these reasons, I am announcing my campaign for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina. I am a soldier, and that is where the battle is, where our nation’s progress tenuously hinges, and is at a deadlock. The slew of career politicians currently in the race are not only uninspiring, but dangerous. These are serious times and government is serious business for serious people. Our security, our economy, and our children’s futures are at stake. I believe a united America is worth fighting for and we need proven leaders in Washington who are committed to getting the job done. 

I am among the first of many prior service members from the post-9/11 generation who are signing up for a new tour of duty because of the fall of Afghanistan. For us, it echoes the wave of World War II veterans who entered politics as a result of the embarrassment and tragic fall of Saigon. Back in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan was among that group of WWII veterans. He was mortified about the stain that Saigon left on America’s image around the world and the cut it made on the hearts of veterans and citizens at home. Sadly, I now know how he felt.

We have a new mission: a Mission for America. We must save American democracy from those that would prefer to see us divided and weak. We must reinstate the beacon of hope that is the shining city on the hill. We must fuel the pain of all the current crises into action. We must be us again, unshakable and fiercely united, just like we were on the day after 9/11. As we forge a path out of the pandemic and beyond the epic fall of Afghanistan, we must show each other and remind the world of the relentless American spirit. 

America is the world leader, and as a veteran, I wholeheartedly answer the call to honorably help carry that mantle.

Marjorie K. Eastman is a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina. She is a U.S. Army veteran and award-winning author of The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11.