IDAHO STATESMAN: He fought in Afghanistan. Now this Idaho veteran fights to get all U.S. troops home.

Of the hundreds of phone calls he makes a day, starting at 6 a.m. and running through dinnertime, Dan McKnight estimates that maybe one-third of those actually result in a conversation.

But he’s willing to talk to anyone who will listen.

McKnight, 43, of Meridian, served in the Marines, the Army and the Idaho Army National Guard for a total of 13 years, joining the Marine Corps at just 19 years old. The Boise native spent more than a year overseas in Afghanistan while in the Army, from December 2005 to February 2007.

As a soldier, McKnight never questioned the mission. But since returning home, his mindset about war has changed.

McKnight started the BringOurTroopsHome.US program in January after Idaho Sen. Jim Risch’s appointment as chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The veteran’s goal is to get Congress to bring U.S. troops home from the ongoing war zones in the Middle East. A rally is being held in coordination with the college Democratic and Republican groups at Boise State University at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the BSU Student Union to try to gather support for a resolution McKnight has crafted.

Why does McKnight care so deeply about this? Why does he spend 80 percent of his 12-hour days making phone calls to politicians and other leaders? McKnight points to a collection of pictures in front of his fireplace.

“Those guys. Those guys right there,” he said, gesturing toward photos of him and his military friends. He pauses and briefly looks down; tears begin to well in his eyes.

“The damage that is done to the guys who are paying the price. We have a value in the military, it’s a core value that we leave no one behind. And right now we’ve left a lot of people behind. We’ve left a lot of blood and a lot of treasure there. It’s time to stop it.”

As of March, there are approximately 14,000 United States troops deployed in Afghanistan, according to The New York Times. There are around 5,200 troops in Iraq, according to the Military Times, and an additional 2,000 in Syria, per USA Today.

Since entering Afghanistan in 2001 for Operation Enduring Freedom, there have been 2,424 American troop fatalities, per the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. Since initially entering Iraq in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, 4,568 American troops have been killed.

McKnight said he saw Risch’s appointment as an opportunity for change, but so far the Republican senator has not been of much help. He has consistently voted against withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Just last week President Donald Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Yemen; Risch voted against that resolution.

Risch, along with the rest of Idaho’s delegation, is invited to Wednesday’s event, McKnight said. Risch will be unable to attend due to another commitment, according to an statement emailed to the Statesman. “I commend Mr. McKnight for his advocacy of an important issue and commend our men and women who have served, and continue to serve, in harm’s way,” Risch said in the statement. “Most importantly, we need to end all wars as quickly as possible in a responsible, thoughtful manner that safeguards our national security interests, preserves our hard-fought gains, and protects the homeland from those that wish us harm.”

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