Black veteran Tashandra Poullard on impact of Afghanistan withdrawal

EXCLUSIVE: Poullard provides listeners insight into the generational mistreatment of Black veterans and the hurdles they face adjusting to reentry into civilian life post-war

Tashandra Poullard is a U.S. Navy Veteran and native Houstonian. She served in the US Navy from 1997 to 2006 and in Iraq after 9/11. She held the roles of cryptologic technician’s operator and information system specialist.

In theGrio’s interview with Poullard, she details the impact of the Afghanistan withdrawal on women and the United States’ asylum system. Additionally, Poullard provides listeners insight into the generational mistreatment of Black veterans and the hurdles they face adjusting to reentry into civilian life post-war.

theGrio’s Jessica Floyd: We’ve seen the president very [up]front with the American people being the face of this evacuation in the face of ending this conflict, because it’s not even a declared war. What role will General Lloyd Austin play as far as the planning, the strategy, the execution for people to understand what position he’s in right now as well?

Tashandra Poullard: That’s a very tall order that he has right now, as I mentioned earlier, making sure we get the right people out. That’s number one, because we do not want to extract people who actually have ties to the organization that we’re trying to extract people away from. So the vetting system moving the logistics of the people, the equipment, [and] the aircraft that are going to get the people…the medical supplies that may be needed on the ground to treat people who might be sick. Don’t forget, COVID has not disappeared.

I understand the tall order that is placed in front of them to make sure that these people get the services that they need to sustain themselves once they get here and then be able to acclimate into American society. Let’s not forget dealing with the the many issues many Americans may have with them being here, because of the fact that they come from another country.

Tashandra Poullard

We’re already dealing with issues of immigration, our brothers and sisters at the borders who are held in detention centers because that’s what I call them, the detention centers. How are we going to help the Afghanis but then still have them sitting at detention centers, seeking asylum and they’re running from some of the same issues. So it’s a catch twenty-two, or a double-edged sword, whichever way you want to [say it]. But it’s a lot that the general and American leadership period has to ingest at once to figure out how to move forward with helping these people. But we have to because, again, we went into the region and we [destabilized].

theGrio: You know, it’s very interesting that you brought that up, because when I asked about the intersection of the migration at the border and the migration that we’re about to see due to the Afghanistan withdrawal, you know, it was compartmentalized. So what issue is it for American people to digest this in pieces and not take it into totality?

Poullard: Well, I think these issues are showing Americans how this image that, in my personal opinion, the Republican Party painting of people of a darker color, or we call ‘brown-eyed people,’ coming into the United States just taking over and lazing off the system ,and not really having to do any work to legally get here. I think these issues are bringing it to the forefront to show many Americans it’s not what you think it is. It’s not the political talking points that we saw many candidates use on their platforms. It’s a lot deeper than that. [It] is social, psychological, socially systemic–[it’s] global.

Because, again, we talk about our brothers and sisters from the southern borders of the United States, Central and South America, Mexico. They, too, were facing some of the same issues with rebels coming into their towns that are fighting the government, but at the same time taking advantage of innocent people, doing everything to force them into human trafficking, forcing them into trafficking drugs and forced labor.

This is the same thing that the Taliban is doing, Al-Qaeda is doing, in those regions to the people that we’re bringing from Afghanistan over here to the United States–forcing them into the poppy fields, forcing them into human trafficking, forcing them to fight, become members of their forces. For example, women who are uneducated in those regions, they take their children and they make them fight in their forces. That’s both in South America and Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)

So there’s a cross between what we saw with our brown brothers and sisters who were coming into the United States seeking asylum, as well as those who are coming from the Middle East, Southwest Asia, who are seeking asylum. [It’s] the same thing, but on a different level. Honestly, we’ve had our hand in both things because we tried to control governments. We tried to come in and insert our ideas of democracy into these regions. It’s [destabilized] these regions.

Now, these people are suffering and need a place to go. As the leaders of the free world, we have to accept these people into our country because we always talk about ‘give us your poor and your tired.’ So how can we say these things that are etched upon the Statue of Liberty, but then not meaning when it comes to people of color?

theGrio: You’re yearning to be free. It’s very interesting to me that that that comment is made — the people of color. We’ve put our hands into their political pots. However, when it comes to a Haiti , at the moment, we are hands off. I’m like, so where was nation building then?

Poullard: Well, when we talk about Haiti, you’ve got to look at the history of Haiti. Haiti has always been that the thorn in the side of colonialism and imperialism, because Haiti, the people have always been resistant. When they defeated the French, they already, in many cases, put themselves on the chopping block because that was one African nation, predominantly African nation, that showed the world that people aren’t as stupid as you think we are and we will fight if we need to.

Haiti has always been a resistant country. Now they’ve always had turmoil within because, again, even though as people of color, of African heritage throughout the African diaspora, are very strong-willed people, we will fight for ourselves. But many of us don’t have the management and leadership skills to ensure that our countries, our cities, our nations that we build are just as successful as the colonial countries.

U.S. Army soldiers are briefed on COVID-19 quarantine procedures after returning home from a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan on December 10, 2020 at Fort Drum, New York. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Let’s not forget, a lot of these colonialized countries have their hands in how these African countries or African disaporic countries are ran. So countries like France have always dug their hands in the Haitian pots to ensure that even though we don’t control you financially, we can still control your commerce and we can still work with other countries like the United States, Britain, other countries to make sure that you guys are never financially empowered.

theGrio: You know, I was asked what’s happening to the women’s businesses that were established in Afghanistan while the Americans were in place. There were so many charity organizations giving life to basket weavers, jewelry makers, rug weavers, and now women are fleeing for their lives or, you know, [the] like.

I think we need to just remove the veil of American innocence and say what exactly it is–they’re being raped, they’re being tortured, their children are suffering and watching and being raised to be the next generation of what have you. Could you explain what acts of war are and what is happening over there that our eyes do not see?

Poullard: Well, one tool that has always been used in every war throughout the history of mankind is mass rapings, gang rapes. There was a study that I read like, for example, I want to say, during Rwanda and various other uprisings in Africa. They would have these camps, these imprisonment camps that they would put women and girls in. The women that they would rape on a daily basis were called war booty of war trophies.

So unchecked masculinity will always use the femininity to conquer and dominate through various forms of abuse. …I read a report, not to get too graphic, when there was one woman who the Taliban had found out that she had worked with American forces and that she had started her business, all these things, and they set her hair on fire. They raped her and then eventually murdered her to make an example of her.

So you got to realize in a lot of these countries, the woman’s body is always seen as a temple that must be honorable and must be accountable to the family name by deflowering a virgin with multiple men to gang rape. If they give her back to her family, in certain countries, her family has to kill her in order to bring honor back to the family name because she’s been defiled. So you don’t have no control over what happens to you when these rebels come into your village.

If this happens to you, now you’re dishonorable in the family’s name and you must be eliminated to bring honor back. Everything in regards to the vagina for the woman in various countries, in various societies, is always seen as needing to be clean and honorable for your husband. So if they’re not raping you, if you’re a teenage girl, sometimes you may be young as 10, 12 years old, pre-teen, then making you a child bride.

Taliban fighters stand guard on the back of vehicle with a machine gun in front of main gate leading to Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

So that way you’re not a dishonorable woman and they’ll make you marry one of the rebel leaders. He could be anywhere from 15 to 55. They don’t care. You’re going to marry him and you’re going to service him because you weren’t an honorable and good woman, according to our religious beliefs. This is through various countries in the world. I mean, when you look at war from a broader perspective, women and children, the elderly, the handicapped, the poor are always the one to fall victim, to unchecked masculinity, to men who come in with religious beliefs and want nothing more to conquer.

theGrio: A veteran yesterday explained how poorly he was treated when he returned home, but saw America open their arms to Vietnamese refugees. So it’s like in house, out house, like we are not taking care [of vets] here, when it comes to our situation on the border, when it comes to our situation with rent evictions and the compounding crises of COVID and a crushed economy. I mean, although America nationally is doing well, everyday people are not thriving in the way that they would hope to be. So how do you balance that?

Poullard: Right. I was once a homeless veteran. I lost everything when I was trying to get my company going, moving from the DMV area into various other states. So I’ve been through the system to be able to speak on it openly and candidly. There’s not enough resources to assist veterans who are coming back home. That’s those, for example, who are amputees needing assistance to be able to get prosthetic limbs, to be able to get medical care.

…I’ve noticed a rise in homeless veterans who [are] sleeping on the streets right now, I’m in the state of California. I have been able to actually talk to some of the homeless people that I’ve run into on the streets because they used to be me. I find many of them served in the military. Some of them as recent as 2008, 2012, 2010. Why are they on the streets?

The very fact that poor people…here in the United States are often forced to choose the military so that they can have access to higher education, to assist with living, just to make an overall better person of who you are. Then you go and get sent off to a war, where you’re seeing atrocities, where you’re witnessing things that, if you’re a female veteran, you’re experiencing sexual assault while in combat.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Then you come back and the system is so swamped at the VA that you may or may not get someone to answer the phone. You may or may not get a doctor that can see you today, and you need to be seen today because your symptoms are so dire that you just cannot take the pain anymore. Or the thoughts rambling around in your mind are just too severe that you fear: This may be the day you take your life, which you can’t get anybody on the phone to talk to.

‘We have money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.’ We have money to send people to war, but then we don’t have enough money to make sure that every veteran who served, especially those in combat zones, have a roof over their head. We have money to put a million, billion-dollar weapons systems on ships, and on the ground, and tanks and various armored vehicles that we turn around and pass down to the 1033 Program. [We send] to local police departments who are getting billion-dollar budgets, million-dollar budgets for military equipment that they’re not even trained to use, but they’re using it to fight the war on crime, the war on drugs.

But then you have a veteran who used to drive that same [tank] sleeping on the side of the road across the street from the police station. What sense does that make? It makes none at all. But as military veterans, we are always at the end of the line when it comes to assistance. Let me correct myself. Military veterans of color, because I’ve noticed that a lot of it–not to be racist–a lot of my white veterans know where to find the resources.

They don’t suffer as much as military veterans of color do. They don’t suffer the way veterans who are immigrants do. The majority of the veterans I’ve seen sleeping on side of the road in tents, that are now their makeshift homes, are people who look like me and many of them are women. We don’t even talk about the female veterans who served in combat areas and come back and can’t get assistance.

How many veterans shelters do you know of? [That at] the top of your head, cater to female veterans? I lived in one, and from what I understand, it was the only one in the state of Texas that catered to women specifically, and that was through Catholic Charities. It wasn’t even through the VA.

Black veteran, Tashandra Poullard, on the impact of Afghanistan withdrawal

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