FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — When Timothy Howey was just a child, he vowed that if the United States was ever involved in a protracted war, he would quit whatever he was doing to go overseas and wouldn’t come back until the war ended.
“Whether it was a movie star, a homeless person, whatever, I would quit,” said Howey. “I just felt that it was what I should do to do my part to help.”
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, it was time for Howey to follow through with that vow. He quit his job at Raytheon in Fort Wayne to head overseas.
“I was thinking I would be gone three, four years. I didn’t anticipate being gone almost 20 years,” said Howey.
Despite the length of the war, Howey didn’t waiver from his promise. He spent the last 17 years working various jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, either in support of, or directly with, the U.S. military. He currently works as the senior executive director of IO Global, one of the leading Internet Services and information communication technology solutions providers in Afghanistan.
Over the last 16 years, Howey only came home one time. He arrived back in Fort Wayne this past Sunday.
Howey was at the Kabul airport on Thursday, August 26 — the day 13 U.S. service members were killed in the two suicide bombing attacks.
“I was helping to bring U.S. passport holders, green card holders, visa holders, wives of American citizens, people that had special immigrant visa cases, people who were on a high-level threat to be killed by the Taliban,” said Howey.
However, it was nearly impossible to get to the gate because the United States was transporting thousands of people out, even those who Howey described as “not qualified.” He said the situation was “very dangerous.”
“You could stand there for 8-10 hours and you could not get through,” said Howey. “I mean, a crowd that was just collected, mass of humanity, a barrier that you couldn’t pass.”
Howey said he was in the process of one of his treks in the airport when the bombing happened. Marines told him he needed to leave.
“I had no choice because they were closing down base,” said Howey. “They didn’t know if it wouldn’t open again before they left, or how long it would be closed, but they would not let me go out, they wouldn’t let anybody come in.”
Soon after, Howey was placed on an aircraft headed to Qatar, which he said had at least 1,000 occupants. He left his belongings behind and traveled with only the clothes on his back. The area he had to “sit” in was about one foot wide, atop luggage.
“I had wheels of luggage in my back so I actually had to stand up a lot of flight,” said Howey. “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.”
The passengers didn’t experience any relief once they landed in Qatar. For security reasons, passengers weren’t allowed out of the aircraft for nearly five and a half hours. Howey described it as like “being inside of a car in the summertime with all the windows closed.” He said some even started collapsing.
Next he flew to Bulgaria, then to Virginia before he finally made it home safely to Fort Wayne.
Overall, Howey said he’s “sorry for the way things ended,” but said he’s proud he did what he could to contribute to the war effort.
“I had dedicated to complete that mission. I didn’t waver from it. I never, I never gave up. I never was at the point where I was going to quit and come back,” said Howey. “I always found something to do, I was always helping the U.S. military or the U.S. government in some way, somehow through all those years and I think I made some positive contributions and I’m glad I did what I did.”
Howey said his message for the American people is that there’s still questions to be asked. Specifically about how and why the U.S.’s equipment was turned over to the Taliban. He hopes the country can learn from this.
“There’s an old saying, ‘those who don’t read their own history will be doomed to forever repeat it,’” said Howey. “We repeated it now five times. So, either we’re not reading our own history, or there’s some things that shouldn’t be happening, because these things are all known, and yet we continue to do the same things over and over again.”
He’s not sure when, but Howey said he plans to return to Kabul to get his belongings.