U.S. Marine and Troy native Lance Cpl. Jacob Botardo was in the thick of the evacuation of Afghanistan. He had to do everything from crowd control to guard duty to help the thousands of people trying to get out of the country.

U.S. Marine and Troy native Lance Cpl. Jacob Botardo was in the thick of the evacuation of Afghanistan. He had to do everything from crowd control to guard duty to help the thousands of people trying to get out of the country.

Photo provided by Jay Botardo


Troy native shares experiences from Afghanistan evacuation

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published September 23, 2021

 Texts like this one were the only way Jacob Botardo could let his parents know he was all right as they, and the rest of the world, watched the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan occur in real time.

Texts like this one were the only way Jacob Botardo could let his parents know he was all right as they, and the rest of the world, watched the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan occur in real time.

Photo provided by Jay Botardo

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TROY — People around the world watched in real time as the United States military pulled out of Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of conflict there.

Many were captivated as they watched both Afghans and foreign nationals alike try to escape the country before the Taliban could stop them. They saw people trying to climb onto planes as they took off, transports crowded with as many people as could fit inside, and a bomb going off at the airport where the evacuations took place.

Troy native and active-duty Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob Botardo, 20, had a front-row seat for all of it.

“Going in there, we were just not prepared for anything. Even people who had been on multiple combat deployments weren’t prepared for this. They said it was not like anything they had seen before,” Jacob recalled. “We went from pushing refugees back to taking fire from the Taliban to dealing with the bomb to passing out food. It was all a big blur. I couldn’t even keep track of the days.”

Jacob is part of the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which acts as a quick response unit around the globe. They were dispatched to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul Aug. 13 and left on Aug. 29. They were stationed at Kabul International Airport, where the United States was trying to get as many people out of the country as possible before the deadline to leave at the end of the month occurred.

“In the beginning we were helping on the airfield trying to keep people in the terminal,” he explained. “We were then working on the gates doing security and searching people and checking their documentation. We were checking for bad guys and trying to help the good guys. We also sometimes had to make sure (those trying to get out) were fed and safe. … At the north gate we could see the Taliban had their own check point just a couple hundred meters away. They were essentially beating people that we could see, but there was nothing we could do about it.”

Jacob graduated from Troy College and Career Institute in 2019 and played baseball for Troy Athens High School. He left for Marine boot camp only two months after graduating.

Jacob said the hardest part about the deployment was seeing how many people were in need of assistance, but knowing there was no way to help them all.

“We had about 120,000 we had to get out of the country. I can’t say how many more were trying to get out,” said Jacob. “I remember families reaching out to me saying, ‘Help me, help me, help me,’ and saying the Taliban would kill them. All you could do was help one family at a time though.”

He recalled the now famous photo of people trying to climb on a plane as it was taking off. Jacob was just out of frame in the turret of a Humvee.

“There was (a) photo of people trying to climb onboard one of the planes,” said Jacob. “I was in the turret of a vehicle at the time trying to get people off so they wouldn’t get hurt.”

Watching from their home in Troy were Jacob’s parents, Rose and Jay Botardo. Both said it was nerve-wracking seeing the chaos on TV and knowing their son was in the middle of it.

“It was a lot of sleepless nights,” remarked Rose. “They say to not watch the news. I had to, though. I saw his face on the news and he was able to text us, so I had some peace of mind. … It’s so surreal. He was only 2 months old when 9/11 happened and now he’s over there.”

The pair didn’t even want to tell Jacob when Rose received a cancer diagnosis. They didn’t want to distract him in a situation where he had to be as alert and focused as possible.

“My wife was diagnosed with colon cancer in July,” Jay said. “He didn’t know she was sick while he was over there so we didn’t tell him until he was out of there. We didn’t want to take his mind off of it.”

The most harrowing part for both Jacob and his parents was the bombing of one of the airport gates on Aug. 26. Jacob was stationed nearby, and among the 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel who died was a member of his unit.

“My friend Sgt. Nicole Gee was among those who died in the bombing attack,” said Jacob. “I was about 200 meters away. None of us know how to react to that, but you have your training. You don’t have the time to react. We had been up all night doing our job and then the bomb goes off.”

Rose and Jay had several anxious hours between when they heard about the bombing and when they were finally able to hear from Jacob again.

“He had been texting us every day,” Jay said. “We didn’t hear from him for a few hours after the bombing, so it was a long time before he was able to text us to let us know he was all right.”

“He couldn’t even grieve,” added Rose. “They just had to worry about doing their job.”

Jacob’s unit was among the last to leave the country when they finally were able to board a transport after weeks of stress, violence, compassion and exhaustion.

“We were the last Marines out,” he said. “On the last day, we took rocket attacks. We had a counter to it that can shoot them down by targeting it with a laser, so it was pretty impressive. You could still hear those rockets heading over and over again and people calling out to take shelter. … Just the Army’s 82nd Airborne was there after we left.”

Jacob said now that he is removed from the chaos, he can take some time to process and understand what he just experienced. He said it’s a feeling a lot of people are probably going through after the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Now we’re in Kuwait,” he said. “No one knew what was going on while we were over there. It was no sleep, no rest, and we saw some really surreal stuff. We didn’t even have time to think about it, and now we do, and we’re trying to think about it and process it.”

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