MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — A Gold Star mother watching the ongoing chaos in Afghanistan calls the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan a "gut punch" to families just like hers.
"This is stunning. This is absolutely one of the most enormous failures," Karen Vaughn said.
Vaughn's son, Aaron Vaughn, was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
"He believed in the mission. Absolutely," Vaughn said.
Serving his country, Vaughn said, was a dream of Aaron's.
After 9/11, he felt passionate and excited to join the military.
"He knew that the Afghan people needed to be liberated from the ravaging forces of the Taliban and ISIS," Vaughn said.
He became a Navy SEAL on Seal Team Six, sacrificing his life in 2011.
"They were shot out of the sky and it was the largest one-day loss of life in the entire war on terror," Vaughn said.
As the U.S. approaches 20 years since the terrorist attacks that sparked the war in Afghanistan, Vaughn reflects on decades of sacrifice ending without the success she hoped for.
"As the 20-year anniversary approached, certainly nobody could have ever anticipated that there was going to be such an epic failure," Vaughn said. "So here at the 20th anniversary, 9/11 family members also find out that it was for nothing. ... We're right back where we were."
She said she supported pulling out of the country and ending the U.S.'s longest war.
"I assumed as an American citizen that our military leaders had a strategy that would be effective," Vaughn said. "So what has happened now has been a literal gut punch and complete shock to Gold Star families across this nation, as well as to veterans."
Now, she said, she would like President Joe Biden to consider terminations.
"I'd like for him to say that, 'I'm firing every military leader that had anything to do with the strategy planning of this exit,'" Vaughn said.
Vaughn said she is now receiving dozens of texts and messages from military families, veterans and contacts trying to find ways to help allies still in the country.
"We've got war fighters writing us, saying, 'I can't believe what I'm experiencing, the anxiety I have right now,'" Vaughn said.
She read some of the messages, saying, "I'm asolutely sick. Can't believe what's happening over here" and "what an unbelievable disaster."
Vaughn worries for the safety of the Afghan people who worked with and helped people like her son.
This exit from the country, Vaughn said, makes the loss for Gold Star families tougher to bear.
"We gave our sons and daughters, you know. They sacrificed their lives for something they believed would end well," Vaughn said. "I can promise you that if Aaron Vaughn had to live through this, I don't even know where he'd be mentally. I don't know that he could handle it."
She is also worried about the mental state and health of veterans and survivors of the war who hoped for a different outcome.
"If there's any war fighters out there listening to this conversation right now, I want you to know what you did was honorable. ... What they did had a purpose and had a meaning," she said. "It's our leadership that has failed them and failed this country and failed the nation of Afghanistan."