LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The United States presence in Afghanistan began as a mission to track down those who attacked the country on September 11.

The U.S. military did what it set out to do and, in the process, helped a nation and its people seek new ground, cultivate new leadership and set a path for freedom.

While the United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan, many say the changes that were been set in motion will never be erased, even under the cloud of Taliban rule.

One local veteran knows that all too well. James Wilson spent five years at Little Rock Air Force Base and went on six deployments, including one to Afghanistan.

For the Air Force veteran, the last 20 years were not in vain. Wilson spends his time now studying law behind a desk, but there was a time when his office was in the sky. For him, the fallout in Afghanistan is crushing.

“There’s a lot of people hurting right now, and we need to recognize that,” Wilson said.

But perhaps what’s worse, Wilson explained, is the criticism.

“I’m sad when people say that we failed,” he said.

So, he’s choosing a different view.

“Service in the military is a calling,” Wilson said. “Nobody raises their right hand to get rich.”

He’s believing the U.S. has done more good than bad.

“I mean, we’ve got an entire generation of little girls who have been educated for the first time,” he said.

The veteran airman said he hopes a seed was planted, however small.

“I have to believe that with the availability of education and the generation of kids that can now read, the opportunities are there,” Wilson said.

He is also refusing to accept the U.S. and ally lives lost didn’t matter.

“The people that died there, those that didn’t make it home, the spouses that heard the doorbell ring, it wasn’t for nothing,” Wilson said. “There should be no shame in that. Sadness, sure. Be heartbroken, yes. But shame, no.”

Wilson said even though it’s hard to see right now, the work done in Afghanistan was good and honorable because it was in service to those who stayed behind and waited, and for the rest of America, too.

Wilson recently graduated from the Bowen School of Law with a law degree. He takes his bar exam in a few months. He hopes to focus his practice on issues affecting veterans.