Congressman Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, has been one of the of the military's strongest supporters, and has long urged leaders to stay the course in Afghanistan.
But now, after a year of soul-searching, he's changing his tune. He said the war is killing our best and brightest, and it's time to get out. He told us his position has been a long-time coming and thinks fellow Congressmen agree with him.
Young is disturbed by the continued maiming of American troops by improvised explosive devices, or IED's, and the killing of allied troops by presumed Afghanistan allies.
"During my hearings all of this year, one of the main messages that I had was, what are you doing to stop these so-called allies in Afghanistan from murdering our soldiers when they sleep?" said Young. "Or in a training class?"
Young cautions this may just be the beginning of the end, but it will take some time to fully withdraw safely.
Young said his final decision came after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the same thing about the need to get out, but he's also been impacted by all the stories he's heard from soldiers.
Also, a letter a local soldier wrote to him may have been part of the catalyst in his change of heart.
It spelled out the dangers from the front lines. and it hit home for Young even further, when that same soldier later came home in a casket.
It's only been a little more than a month ago, since Army Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton's body was brought home to Largo. Sitton, 26, died Aug. 2 in Afghanistan, the result of an IED explosion.
Matt's parents Steve and Cheryl were stunned.
"Because, he, (Matt), was really good at finding them, very very good at finding them," said Cheryl Sitton back on Aug. 6.
"I thought if anybody's going to make it through there, it'd be my son," said Steve Sitton.
"If you know they're there, why can't we find them before the soldier gets blown up?" said Young.
Young has pushed billions toward defense and new technology but said his thoughts have been building at hearings all year, as casket after casket comes home.
In some of his last words to his wife Sarah, Sitton tried to ease her fears.
"Don't even worry about anything bad happening, don't even go there."
"Anything that the military tells us that they need for soldiers, we appropriate whatever's required," said Young.
But when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told him, 'There is something wrong, we need to make major changes," that was the impetus for Young to start asking some hard questions of the J.I.E.D.D.O., or Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which is the Pentagon's main effort to counter IED's.
"I'm not at war with the J.I.E.D.D.O., but I just want to know some questions like, they've had a lot of money, why are kids still getting blown up?" said Young.
Also, a letter written to Young by Sitton weeks before his death appears to have driven the point home. The Sittons can't divulge any details yet, but told us they're proud of what their son wrote to Young.
And for the thousands still fighting, Young goes before the J.I.E.D.D.O. Thursday, with a new mantra to re-think our mission in Afghanistan before we lose anyone else.
"I've talked to a lot of my colleagues, I've talked to a lot of my friends in the military," said Young. "I don't find a lot of disagreement."
The Sittons told us they're going to meet with Congressman Young, most likely, Wednesday, before he heads to Washington for Thursday's hearings.
They hope to share their son's letter with all of us very soon.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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