FORT WAYNE, Indiana (WANE) – When Timothy Howey was just a kid, he swore that if the United States ever got involved in a protracted war, he would give up whatever he did to go to the foreigner and would not return until the war was over.
“Whether it was a movie star, a homeless person, whatever, I would quit,” Howey said. “I just felt that was what I needed to do to do my part to help.”
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was time for Howey to follow through on this wish. He left his job at Raytheon in Fort Wayne to travel overseas.
“I thought I would be gone three, four years. I didn’t expect to be gone for almost 20 years, ”Howey said.
Despite the length of the war, Howey did not give up on his promise. He has spent the past 17 years in various jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, either in support or directly with the US military. He currently holds the position of Senior Executive Director of IO Global, one of the leading providers of Internet services and information and communication technology solutions in Afghanistan.
In the past 16 years, Howey has only returned once. He returned to Fort Wayne last Sunday.
Howey was at Kabul airport on Thursday August 26 – the day 13 US servicemen were killed in the two suicide bombings.
“I was helping bring in US passport holders, green card holders, visa holders, spouses of US citizens, people with special immigrant visa cases, people who were at risk of being killed by the Taliban, ”Howey said.
However, it was nearly impossible to get to the gate because the United States was transporting thousands of people, even those Howey described as “unskilled.” He said the situation was “very dangerous”.
“You could stay there for 8-10 hours and you couldn’t pass,” Howey said. “I mean, a crowd that has just been gathered, a mass of humanity, a barrier that you couldn’t cross.”
Howey said he was on one of his hikes at the airport when the bombing occurred. The marines told him he had to go.
“I had no choice because they were shutting down the base,” Howey said. “They didn’t know if it wouldn’t reopen before it left, or how long it would stay closed, but they wouldn’t let me out, they wouldn’t let anyone in.”
Shortly after, Howey was placed on a plane bound for Qatar, which he said had at least 1,000 occupants. He left his things behind and traveled with only the clothes on his back. The area in which he was to “sit” was about one foot wide, above the luggage.
“I had luggage wheels on my back so I had to stand on a lot of flights,” Howey said. “We went from Kabul to Qatar, and it was an oven. It was literally an oven in there because we had so many people and no one could breathe.
Passengers felt no relief once they landed in Qatar. For safety reasons, passengers were not allowed to exit the plane for nearly five and a half hours. Howey described it as “being inside a car in the summer with all the windows closed”. He said some have even started to collapse.
Then he flew to Bulgaria, then to Virginia before finally making his way home safely to Fort Wayne.
Overall, Howey said he was “sorry for the way things turned out” but said he was proud to have done what he could to contribute to the war effort. .
“I had dedicated myself to accomplishing this mission. I did not deviate from it. I never, I never gave up. I was never at the point where I was going to give up and come back, ”Howey said. “I’ve always found something to do, I’ve always helped the US military or the US government in one way or another, for all these years and I think I’ve made positive contributions and I’m glad I did what I did. “
Howey said his message to the American people is that there are still questions to be asked. Specifically on how and why American equipment was handed over to the Taliban. He hopes the country can learn from it.
“There’s an old adage, ‘those who don’t read their own story will be doomed to repeat it forever,'” Howey said. “We have said it five times now. So either we don’t read our own story, or there are things that shouldn’t happen, because these things are all known, and yet we keep doing the same things over and over again.
He doesn’t know when, but Howey said he plans to return to Kabul to collect his belongings.