As Americans react with surprise to how easily the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in recent days, veterans and others in Palm Springs who spent time in the country say they are equally startled.
“On Sunday, Kabul fell, and everyone knew it was coming, that the city had been surrounded,” said Scott Grasser, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces captain who spent seven years in Afghanistan working as a security director for a private company and is now retired in Palm Springs. “It was still a shock because that was the final place that was holding out outside of the Panjshir Valley.”
Grasser helped train an indigenous army in the country that protected Afghans building infrastructure such as runways. On Saturday, he said he was focusing on helping those who worked for him escape Afghanistan. He has not devoted much time to thinking about how the insurgents so quickly stormed across the country and captured all major cities in a matter of days as Afghan security forces melted away.
Still, he has his suspicions.
“There are reports that the president of Afghanistan walked away with a lot of money,” Grasser said. “When Afghan leadership runs out of town with all that loot, I’m speechless.
“Afghan soldiers are brave. But my understanding is the Taliban had paid them off and they had been buying weapons from unpaid policemen. In that regard, greed took over and things cascaded from there.”
Grasser and other veterans, many of whom gather at the city’s Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, said the scenes playing out in Afghanistan are hauntingly familiar and equally upsetting as past U.S. missions that ended unceremoniously.
“Looking at the helicopter lifting off the roof in Saigon and the one this week in Kabul, of course they look the same,” Grasser said. “There are a lot of bad feelings, and old feelings are coming back. I try to not watch too much news, but that’s difficult.”
While comparisons to U.S. efforts in Vietnam have been easy to draw, Grasser said he also sees many similarities in Afghanistan to the Iraq War. That conflict began with claims that the country had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) but eventually lost public support when intelligence about WMDs proved illusory and a violent insurgency arose.
“I don’t care about politics and blame. Right now we need to come together and fix this.” — Scott Grasser
“I was on an [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] mission in central Iraq,” he explained. “The EOD guys were demolishing all the artillery rounds and missiles in the central part of Iraq, and we didn’t see any evidence of WMDs. In fact, the arms embargo worked. There were only a handful of Chinese crates we saw that were delivered after the embargo.”
Similar to Afghanistan, Grasser said American soldiers entered Iraq believing in the mission, only to learn upon reflection years later that money and politics were at play.
“We were all trying to do good things for America and help our allies at the same time,” Grasser recalled. “The first thing an Iraqi asked me when I got over there is, ‘Whey are you guys here? Is it the oil?’ I thought to myself years later, that guy really had it.
“That’s why I left Iraq. I sensed the mission wasn’t being pulled straight. In Afghanistan, I think it was the right war. If someone attacks America, we need to fight back. But there’s a lot of what-ifs — like, what if we pulled out after we found Osama Bin Laden?”
There is no second-guessing what Grasser is focused on now. He’s working behind the scenes to get Afghans who worked for him to safety and to keep them safe until they can escape the country. Grasser has been writing letters in support of visas for the people he knows and also teaching them how to erase their history on social media to avoid being tracked by the Taliban.
“I don’t care about politics and blame,” he said. “Right now, we need to come together and fix this.”
He’s also encouraging veterans who served in Afghanistan and elsewhere to lean on each other as they watch the war end.
“I’m a member at the local legion,” Grasser said. “I have a few friends from there. I finally realized that vets really need to help vets.”
To help: Grasser suggests anyone hoping to help Afghanistan residents escape the country make a donation to any non-governmental organization (NGO) currently offering assistance. One of those organizations is the International Rescue Committee.
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COMMUNITY CLEANUP: Ariana Cuttone and a team of volunteers took to the streets Saturday morning to pick up litter on the streets of Palm Springs. Cuttone, frustrated with the amount of trash she sees, including needles and other dangerous objects, organized a community cleanup near the intersection of Palm Canyon Drive and Alejo Road. Trash bags, trash pickers, and sharps disposal buckets were provided by the city. Cuttone said she is hoping to hold a similar event next month and is exploring a partnership with a newly formed city group, The Community Partnership on Homelessness.
CARD FOR CHIEF: After 27 years of service, Palm Springs Chief of Police Bryan Reyes officially retired last week. The city and the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce are giving residents and businesses an opportunity to say goodbye and pay tribute to Reyes by signing a thank you card. From today through Friday, a large card will be placed in front of the chamber headquarters, 190 W. Amado Road, from 9 AM until 4 PM. The card will be presented to Reyes during a special tribute and proclamation ceremony at the beginning of the September 9 city council meeting.
SCHOOL COVID: As of this morning, the Palm Springs Unified School District is reporting 100 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff. Schools in Palm Springs account for 23 of those cases, including 20 cases among students and three among staff. The most cases in any school were reported at Palm Springs High School, where 13 students and one staff member are reportedly infected.
THIS WEEK’S EVENTS
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers five classes today, starting at 8 AM. Among programs on the agenda are a music appreciation class, an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group, fitness classes, and bridge. Today’s complete schedule can be found here.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers multiple classes today, starting at 8 AM. Included in today’s offerings are Wii bowling, canasta, mah-jongg, and multiple fitness classes. For more information about all of today’s offerings, click here.
JOB FAIR: Palm Springs International Airport holds a job fair today from 10 AM until 4 PM at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. The event features more than a dozen companies with 80 openings to fill. You can see a complete list of companies participating, as well as the openings, here.
COFFEE WITH A COP: A chance for community members to get to know city police officers returns today at 10 AM. Join officers from the Palm Springs Police Department for a cup of coffee and a chat at Starbuck’s Reserve, 101 S. Palm Canyon Dr. The event lasts until 12:30 PM.
VILLAGEFEST BOARD: The VillageFest Board meets today at 5:30 PM. A complete agenda and instructions for attending the meeting via Zoom are located here.
AIRPORT COMMISSION: The Palm Springs Airport Commission holds a special meeting today at 5:30 PM. A complete agenda and instructions for attending the meeting via Zoom are located here.
SCHOOL BOARD: The Palm Springs Unified School District Board of Directors meets today at 6 PM at the District Administration Center Board Room, 150 District Center Dr. When available, an agenda will be made available here.
MIZELL EVENTS: Programs at the Mizell Center today include Dick Brodie’s Jam Session, a knitting circle, and an evening informational session on bariatric surgery. The center is located at 480 S. Sunrise Way, and events begin at 8 AM. For a complete list of today’s offerings, click here.
HORA DE CUENTOS: La bibliotecaria Nancy Valdivia lee cuentos, canta canciones y enseña conceptos de aprendizaje temprano (miércoles en español y jueves en inglés) de 10:30 AM a 11:30 AM en el salón de cuentos para jóvenes de la Biblioteca Pública de Palm Springs. Puedes ver los videos en YouTube aquí. La biblioteca está ubicada en 300 S. Sunrise Way.
PARKLET DESIGNS: A workgroup meeting to make recommendations on parklet designs for the city meets virtually today at 2 PM. A complete agenda and instructions for attending the meeting are available here.
APPEALS BOARD: The city’s Administrative Appeals Board meets today at 5:30 PM. A complete agenda, including instructions for listening in or participating in the meeting via Zoom, can be found here.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers exercise classes, informational programs and other events for members today, starting at 8 AM. Among the offerings is a movie titled Wild Oats, starting at 10:30 AM in the Noia Auditorium. Today’s complete schedule can be found here.
STORY TIME: The Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, offers story time for preschoolers starting at 10:30 AM in the youth story room. Librarian Nancy Valdivia reads stories, sings songs and shows early learning concepts (Wednesdays in Spanish and Thursdays in English). You can find more information here, and watch the YouTube videos here.
NOT TEEN TALK: The Palm Springs Public Library’s teen librarian hosts an Instagram Live session each Thursday at 3:30 PM. To follow along, follow @psplteenzone on Instagram here.
FOOD AVAILABLE: FIND Food Bank distributes food in the city today at multiple locations. From 4 PM until 6 PM, food will be available at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros. Food is also distributed today from 5 PM until 6:30 PM at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center, 480 W. Tram View Rd. Every Thursday, food is available at the community food bank, 610 S. Belardo Rd., between 5 PM and 7 PM. A complete calendar of food distribution in the community this month is available here.
FREE MUSEUM ADMISSION: The Palm Springs Art Museum offers free admission from 5 PM to 7 PM this evening. Tickets are required and can be obtained here.
VILLAGEFEST: The city’s weekly outdoor street fair takes place at 7 PM on Palm Canyon Drive between Amado Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way. The event includes vendor booths on both sides of the street, which is closed to vehicular traffic. At this time, face coverings are required for all who attend, regardless of vaccination status.
MIZELL EVENTS: Painting, Wii bowling, and fitness classes are offered today at the Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, starting at 8 AM. Today’s complete schedule can be found here.
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