In conversations with his veteran mates following the fall of Kabul, Inverell's Pat McMahon joined them in pondering the almost unthinkable: was it all worth it?
"We did a great job over there, we really did, and it's so sad to see what's going on over there now," he explained.
"We were talking about what the Air Force meant. And then you start to wonder, well what did we go there for?"
The RAAF veteran explains that the Australian Defence Force contributed to so much good "he'd go back in a heartbeat" to do it all again.
There had been virtually no terror attacks on the West in the two decades they were there.
Women had freedom to not have their entire faces covered. Young girls could receive and continue their education.
"When I thought long and hard about it? I know it wasn't all in vain," he said.
He hopes that two decades of freedoms Afghanistan people experienced before this new Taliban reign would give them the fire to take it back.
"I hope that because they've gotten that taste of freedom, that they can band together and try to get their country free again."
The career soldier was in Singapore teaching the locals how to refuel from Australian aircraft when the call came in to "prepare for war" following the bombing of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
He'd already been to Iraq in 1998 as part of Operation Southern Watch, flying along the border in a "dangerous" mission to refuel Allied fighters attacked by Saddam Hussein's aircraft, which were equipped with chemical weapons like nerve agents and Anthrax.
"I'd already served in Somalia, East Timor, and Iraq before then, but when you got told you were going over there, you get scared going into the unknown," he noted.
"But you train so well in the military and our defence force is the best in the world, so you are armed with that knowledge."
He was sent to the base on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan for six months from 2002, and was part of the crew up in the air refueling fighting craft for combat, including F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats.
"We were very successful in that combat role, and received a meritorious unit citation from the Governor General," he proudly states.
They'd been tasked around the clock responsibility for either an American or French squadron, circling the iconic Himalayas in the combat zone ready to refuel their craft, either for combat or to get back to their base.
"I remember an F-14 Tomcat needed fuel to get back to his carrier in the Persian Gulf," Mr McMahon remembered.
"We were the only tanker left in the combat zone, and we weren't allowed to refuel them because we hadn't been cleared to fill such a big fighter.
"The commanding officer flying the aircraft and engineer asked me if we thought we could do it, and we gave it a go."
With the wings folded back and the weapons dropped, they got him filled up and on his way.
In a base with ten men to a tent, and peaches the only thing to eat, the conditions certainly weren't built for comfort.
"In the first month, I lived on peaches and tea," he explained.
"The only meat came from horses supplied by Russia. Now, I love horses and compete on them to this day, so I just couldn't stomach the taste or smell of it."
Surrounded by would-be suicide bombers from nearby villages, threats of attack from land-based missile stations until they were all taken out, and even the worry of nuclear war between Pakistan and India at the time, he said he wasn't even one of the ones "in the thick of it" like the infantry on the ground.
He has seen first-hand the brutality of the Taliban and Al Qaeda groups, and only too well can imagine what the people of Afghanistan are now facing.
There were many things he saw he cannot talk about. Yet so much good remains with him.
The Aussies would visit some orphanages located near their base, and would play soccer with them, becoming so familiar the children knew their names.
With their buildings in disrepair, and their bedding filthy and smelling of urine, his squadron got together and donated about a week's wages to purchase new bedding, and in their free time worked at repairing their shelters, painting their buildings.
"The local people, they loved the Australians."
Finding out America was withdrawing their support, Mr McMahon said everyone thought military would be the last to leave, after getting people out from the airbases, destroying any weaponry and machinery that wasn't to be taken back.
But the opposite happened, and now that equipment is in the hands of the Taliban with people stampeding airports to get out.
"I am really worried about the people who have been left behind there," he said.
"I think the ADF is doing everything possible. They are putting their life right on the line out there to get everybody out.
"You can't blame our government: we are doing the best we can."
With the mass destruction shocking the world on Friday with the suicide-bombing of the Kabul airport, Mr McMahon expected more to follow.
Minister for Veteran's Affairs Andrew Gee issued a statement to young veterans to show support for our troops.
"Every single one of us that went, knows the difference we made on the ground when we were over there," Mr Gee said one veteran had told him
"It is crucial the Australian community acknowledges the many achievements of our veterans and also that their service provided hope and security for Afghanistan for two decades.
"The men and women of the ADF helped build schools, medical centres and ran clinics. They played a key role in ensuring the people of Afghanistan were able to access electricity, young girls were given an education, women a chance to work and also that there was a reduction in maternal mortality rates."
Following the withdrawal of troops out of Afghanistan, Mr McMahon received a personal email from the Department of Veteran's Affairs to check on how he was handling the news.
The local Inverell RSL Sub-Branch has also been a pillar of support for local veterans, with Mr McMahon commending the "great welfare group".
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