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U.S. Army veteran Francisco Flores joined the Army in 2006 and served two deployments to Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan. In this image, Flores, right, is pictured with his lieutenant.

Record heat, deadly fire and smoke, spiking COVID numbers. It’s been a somber summer.

And now Afghanistan.

It seems like such a faraway place. But as Herald-Republic journalists tell the stories of local veterans who’ve bled there, lost family, limbs and friends there, it’s clear that many in the Yakima Valley will carry Afghanistan in their hearts forever.

This doesn’t seem like a moment for blame, though there certainly seems to be no shortage of it. It’s Biden’s fault, it’s Trump’s fault, it’s Obama’s fault, it’s George W. Bush’s fault. Pick your target.

No, this seems more like a moment of inescapable national pain. We helplessly watch the images of the desperate and the doomed, seething as terrorists mock our country. We all feel it.

Multiply all that by 1,000 and you might be in the neighborhood of what those who served in Afghanistan must be experiencing.

Think of Becky Blanchard, who served in the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard, and lost her husband, Army Capt. Aaron Blanchard, in a 2013 rocket attack. Then, with the Afghanistan evacuation in full swing, the Nile-area resident had to evacuate her home when the Schneider Springs Fire came too close.

“I can tell you Afghanistan was far more upsetting than having to stay in a trailer for a few days,” she told the YHR’s Phil Ferolito.

Or think about Yakima’s Josh Elliott, who lost his legs and three fingers when he stepped on an improvised bomb in 2011 during a tour with the Marine Corps.

“I’ve lost friends there,” Elliott told reporter Donald W. Meyers. “I’ve lost my legs there. It’s really, really hard.”

Francisco Flores of Yakima has spent recent days fearing for the Afghans he worked with and helped train in 2012, when he was stationed there. He can’t shake one in particular, an interpreter.

“He’s such a good guy and he was in the thick of everything,” Flores recalled as he spoke with reporter Janelle Retka. “Just talking with him and learning their culture, you sometimes forget that you’re a soldier and you’re American, and you just become friends.”

Yes, we’ll have plenty of time for blame — and politics being what they are these days, it will come with a vengeance.

For now, though, let’s focus on compassion for those around us who have served. Be grateful for their courage and selflessness. Be mindful of what they’re going through.

And then someday, after the blame’s been dished out and the guilt assigned, we can get back to being Americans. People who are realistic about their country’s missteps, but proud of its resolve to keep doing better.

Perhaps Elliott put it best:

“We can have our period of mourning and anger, but there has to be a time for forgiveness,” he said.