It wasn't for nothing, says Mark O'Donnell, whose son Tim was the first of 10 New Zealand Defence Force personnel to lose their lives in Afghanistan.
The scenes of desperation in Kabul are difficult to escape right now but those who served in Afghanistan left a legacy for those whose lives they touched.
O'Donnell: "Twenty years of a different world - they've seen a glimpse of freedom and opportunity."
Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell was killed on August 3, 2010, while serving as part of New Zealand's provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan. Two other NZDF personnel and an Afghan interpreter were wounded in the attack.
"Our son Tim was the first. We hoped he would be the last," said O'Donnell. A total of 10 NZDF personnel lost their lives during deployments to Afghanistan.
Like many who served, and the families of those who lost someone, Mark O'Donnell has experienced a range of strong emotions as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan and finally into Kabul.
It's an impact felt, he said, "not only by those who have lost someone but those who served".
O'Donnell said it was an outcome that could leave those with a personal connection to Afghanistan "bitter and twisted" but there was much pride to be taken in what NZDF and NZ Police did during their contribution.
"They improved the lot of Afghanistan for the period they were there. Sadly, the world couldn't accept the cost."
At the same time, he said, it was impossible not to feel "gutted", particularly for women, given the Taliban's track record, and children, who had grown up in a country different to that which had previously existed.
"Tim and the others who lost their lives serving their country will be looking down and shaking their heads."
O'Donnell, who was a police officer for more than two decades, visited Bamiyan for two weeks in 2011 and witnessed the dedication and passion defence personnel and police brought to their roles.
He was also given an insight into the realities of trying to resist an insurgency that emerged from and disappeared into challenging and mountainous terrain.
Along with the geography, there was also the frustration of being bound by Rules of Engagement - soldiers spoke of being fired upon by locals out of uniform who knew they could place the weapons on the ground and walk away, confident external forces could not shoot back.
O'Donnell said he found himself deeply touched when at Bagram Air Field, about an hour from the outskirts of Kabul, to find a new United States' barracks building had been named for Tim, complete with a commemorative brass plaque.
He asked the officer who was showing him around if he could have the plaque when the Americans left. "We won't be leaving," he was told.
"I bet that plaque is still sitting there and probably being defaced as we speak.
Like others with a connection, O'Donnell has taken calls and texts as the Taliban swamped Kabul. There have been senior staff at NZDF - people who have become friends in the years since his son was killed - who have touched base to let him know that the O'Donnell family is in their thoughts.
It's the sort of buddy contact playing out across the entire veteran community, says No Duff veteran support group co-founder and trustee Aaron Wood, who served in Afghanistan in 2005.
"There's a lot of frustration. From that, it can go either way - it can go to anger, and there's a fair bit of sadness."
He said those in the community had been sharing through social media a different kind of picture to the typical "Rambo" imagery usually chosen - photographs of service personnel with children encountered during their time in Afghanistan.
Wood said the wash of feelings across the veteran community intensified with scenes of desperation at Kabul airport. He said service personnel were conditioned to expect tasks would be completed as instructed and needs anticipated met as planned.
Watching people falling from the ramps of C117 transport planes, dropping from the under-carriage to their deaths, intensified other feelings.
Wood said those who had served in Afghanistan were encouraged to call those they served alongside and check in on each other.
No Duff was in recess trying to raise funds to continue providing mental health support to veterans. Funding arranged by NZ First was not repeated after the last election.
Where to get help
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
NZDF 24/7 HELPLINE: 0800 NZDF 4U (0800 693 348 or 0800 189 910)
VETERANS AFFAIRS NZ: 0800 483 8372 (0800 4 VETERAN)
VITAE (NZDF civilians): 0508 664 981
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234