U.S. Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, who was injured during the United States military’s tumultuous 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, narrated a peculiar incident with President Biden, in which Biden attempted to shake the hand that Vargas-Andrews lost.
Following an ISIS-K orchestrated suicide bombing at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in August 2021, Vargas-Andrews suffered the loss of his right arm and leg. The tragic episode claimed the lives of 13 U.S. servicemen and left over 160 Afghans dead.
In the aftermath of the traumatic event, Vargas-Andrews’ memory was so affected that when informed of President Biden’s impending visit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he recalled: “I had no idea who the president was… My brain couldn’t make the connection.”
The Marine’s shock upon realizing the identity of his visitor was palpable, and according to him, even the Secret Service personnel in the room had a hard time maintaining their composure.
Upon entering the room, President Biden’s immediate action was to attempt to shake Vargas-Andrews’ missing right hand, leading to an awkward interaction. The injured Marine recounted: “Right away, I remember him coming up to me trying to shake my hand… I’m like, ‘I don’t have an arm.’”
Despite the inauspicious beginning, what further troubled the Marine was Biden’s choice of conversation. Instead of addressing the Kabul attack, Biden spoke about his late son, Beau Biden, who served in Iraq with the Delaware Army National Guard. Sgt. Vargas-Andrews reflected on the president’s apparent oversight: “Doesn’t say anything about what happened, just starts talking about how their son served in the military.”
This turn of conversation incensed Vargas-Andrews’ mother, who was expecting empathy and acknowledgment of her son’s sacrifice. The president’s ensuing interaction with the injured Marine was puzzling, as he leaned close and asked, “What do you want?” Vargas-Andrews, still grappling with the fresh trauma of the attack, expressed his heartfelt desire: “I just want to be myself.”
However, the conversation continued to veer off from the tragic incident, leaving Vargas-Andrews and his mother dissatisfied.
Vargas-Andrews was among the approximately 5,800 troops deployed by Biden during the final evacuation phases in Kabul. He previously shared his haunting experiences at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, depicting the desperate measures some Afghans took, even resorting to self-harm, to avoid the looming Taliban threat.
“They thought this was merciful compared to the Taliban torture that they faced,” he stated during a testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.