top of page

At Abbey Gate

Lcpl Juan Castillo Echo Co 2nd Battalion 1st Marines



“It’d be really hard for one to say that they left HKIA without being just a little mentally fucked or bothered. I don’t regret my experience in Kabul at all. It made me appreciate life and freedom on such a level.


I was with my boys and we were actually doing something important. I felt okay, mostly good. It was hard. Little sleep. Little food at times. When I was at Abbey Gate “on the wall” I was on my feet with a kit, for hours and hours on end. Standing, walking, running, pushing, pulling, carrying various objects and people. It was exhausting physically and mentally. Rushing people out of our perimeter as if they were sheep. Like as if they weren’t human. That fucking killed me. I didn’t want to do it. Grown men, young women, children. getting on their knees and weeping and asking to be spared. Asking me to look away and sneak in. Asking me to look over their documents again. Trying to explain to them that I couldn’t do anything. I was Lcpl. Just a guy, just a dude. The Dept of State just turned your documents away. That’s it. What the fuck do you want me to do? What can I do? “Keep fucking moving! Get the fuck up! walk! Go! Out! I don’t care! Grab your wife and move!” Those were some of the things I said to the masses of people who were coming out of the perimeter. I was tasked to be a rover at the gate. I did crowd control, screened documents and pulled people up out of the shit water, escorted refugees to Dept of State, grabbed and handed out chow/water to the boys positioned along the wall, made my rounds back and forth at the gate pushing turned away refugees outside the perimeter. These actions I had to take. These tasks that were required of me, affected me deeply. They made me feel like a monster. I didn’t like having to play God. Both of my parents were illegal immigrants. Seeing how desperate these people were made me think of my parents. Seeing babies, kids and old people get caught in razor wire. Seeing babies be dropped and drowning in the shit creek water. Seeing women with babies be trampled by selfish motherfuckers. Or seeing babies and children just die from heat exhaustion. This all fucked me up. I have a picture on my phone that someone took of these two little boys, maybe 5 or 6. Sitting on the floor atop a pile of MRE trash , with no shoes, crying and hugging each other, next to a chain link fence and razor wire. Idk how or why I got this picture or why I still haven’t deleted it. Every time I come across it in my gallery it almost brings me to tears. Kids in America ages 5-6 have it so well. Playing on their little iPads and what not. It’s not their fault obviously. No one chooses the life you get put in but damn it makes you think how spoiled we really are.


These people wanted nothing more than freedom. A second chance at life, if not truly the first. Freedom of oppression. Opportunity for their children to be educated. These actions I had to take. These tasks that were required of me, affected me deeply. They made me feel like a monster. I didn’t like having to play God. Both of my parents were illegal immigrants. Seeing how desperate these people were made me think of my parents. Seeing babies, kids and old people get caught in razor wire. Seeing babies be dropped and drowning in the shit creek water. Seeing women with babies be trampled by selfish motherfuckers. Or seeing babies and children just die from heat exhaustion. This all fucked me up. I have a picture on my phone that someone took of these two little boys, maybe 5 or 6. Sitting on the floor atop a pile of MRE trash , with no shoes, crying and hugging each other, next to a chain link fence and razor wire. Idk how or why I got this picture or why I still haven’t deleted it. Every time I come across it in my gallery it almost brings me to tears. Kids in America ages 5-6 have it so well. Playing on their little iPads and what not. It’s not their fault obviously. No one chooses the life you get put in but damn it makes you think how spoiled we really are.


These people wanted nothing more than freedom. A second chance at life, if not truly the first. Freedom of oppression. Opportunity for their children to be educated. There was no briefing or rundown. There might have been one for SNCOs or officers but for myself and many other lower enlisted, we had no idea wtf was going on. We just found a job doing crowd control or did our best at observing documents. There was a lot of confusion and we had to fish for information. I had no idea what a visa or green card or I-9 looked like. We were kinda just thrown in there. There was a lot going on. It was chaotic with no clear plan. We did our best though and eventually worked out an effective system.


One night at abbey gate I was herding this mass of people, a beautiful 20 something year old young woman begged me to not kick her family out. She was weeping hysterically. Stated that she and her teenage looking sister had been raped by the Taliban and threatened to kill her along with the rest of her family if her father were to be seen in Kabul again. I believed her. She was beautiful. Fair skin. Beautiful big green eyes. Long curly hair from what I saw as her hijab was falling off. Soft skin from when she grabbed my hands and fell to her knees begging to be shot. She kept begging for me to shoot her right there and then rather than to be led outside the gate where she’d get raped again and shot and killed anyway but by the Taliban. This was too much for me. I think that was the night before the bombing on the 26th. I had been there at the gate, doing what I had thought at the time were heinous atrocities, for a couple days and nights. I grew desensitized quickly. As a defense mechanism for sure and to be a good marine and carry out my tasks. This set me over though. I somehow slowly but surely herded her and her family along with the rest of the masses of people outside the gate. I did this painfully though. It was hard. I started to cry as I did it. And she saw me crying. I felt like a total bitch crying in front of them. I tried my best to hold back my emotions but fuck I just could not. It probably ruined my demeanor of force and authority in that moment but now when I think of it I’m glad she saw me cry. I hope she knew that I was just doing my job. I would hope that most refugees figured the same.” Once that shift was over. I went over to consolidate personnel with the rest of my platoon. As we waited for everyone to gather I bummed a cigarette, sat on an MRE box and broke down quietly off to the side. A good friend, who’s also a wildland firefighter now, put his hand on my back and didn’t say anything. His presence alone made me feel better. To know I had a friend. It reminded me that I’m not actually evil. I’m not a bad person. I was just doing what I was told. It took a lot of therapy to help me realize and accept that.


I’ll never forget that woman’s face or that moment. We turned away and kicked out thousands of people. Her face remained unforgettable though. Her beauty (not to be a simp) and desperation for life made this task almost impossible and furthermore memorable. I mean I have a sister. I have a girlfriend, who’s also beautiful. Imagining my girlfriend in that situation is just crushing. It’s just nuts. This world is fucked up. I think about that woman everyday along with all the other souls who were at HKIA. The refugees who were turned away, the refugees who we were able to help, the 13 who were taken from us, and the men and women in uniform who were wounded.


HKIA was a rollercoaster of emotions. I say that I enjoyed my experience there because it was hard. It made me feel alive. Alive because I was able to feel every emotion possible. Even the bad ones obviously. I went through a whole fuck ton of fear. I’m no tough guy. I was scared as fuck going into Afghanistan given our circumstances and specifications on terrain and resources. I went into mentally prepared to die. I flew in on a all-in fuck it mode. I figured we were gonna come in hot. Being surrounded on all sides and all. I felt fear, anger, despair, regret, sadness, relief and happiness.



Today, I’m a first responder. Off wildfire season, I’m an EMT student. During the summer I’m a part of Mt Taylor Interagency Hotshot Crew. A Type 1 wildfire handcrew resource based out of New Mexico. It’s hard work for fucking sure. This next 2023 fire season will be my last. After that I’ll be continuing my education within EMS and probably just be sticking to that. I also recently entered into a relationship with this badass of a woman. She’s an athlete grad student at Harvard. I’m pretty excited about where it takes us. I’m pretty serious about her. I’d say things are going pretty well for me. I’ve been working hard to make things happen in my life and I’ll continue to do so. I’m gonna set myself up to live the life that every single one of the 13 would have lived.”

74 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Opmerkingen


bottom of page