It’s hard to believe the War in Iraq started 11 years ago this week.
(I wrote this last year for the 10 year anniversary, so if it seems familiar, that’s why)
I was a Second Lieutenant attending the Transportation Officer Basic Course at Fort Eustis, Virginia, when the invasion began.
Initially, it looked very promising as the Iraqis seemed very eager for a new day—a day without Saddam Hussein in power. We all remember the toppling of Saddam’s statue followed by the obligatory flip flop slaps to his sculpted face.
Saddam was no longer in power and was now on the run.
In July 2003, his heartless and ruthless sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed in a raid in the northern city of Mosul by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division.
Years later, on my third tour in Iraq, I would often see what was called the Perfume Palace, which is where Uday and Qusay committed most of their atrocities against women.
I know there is a special place in hell for them.
By December 2003, my unit, the 3rd Brigade of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, also known as the First Stryker Brigade, was at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pacesetter near Samarra, a major city within the Sunni Triangle. It was perhaps the coldest, wettest, muddiest places I’d ever been.
I remember when the news broke that Saddam Hussein had been captured near his hometown of Tikrit, just 30 miles from our location.
We were sitting in an old bombed out hangar when one of my esteemed colleagues said that he’d read where Ted Nugent was offering a $1,000,000 reward to anyone who captured or killed the brutal dictator. I quickly chimed in by saying that I’d read the same thing.
We were looking at each other like two dogs exposed to high pitched sounds when I quietly asked where he’d read that vital piece of information. It turned out that we’d both read it from the same source—the wall of a porta-potty in Kuwait.
As you can imagine, rumors were running rampant. We were in an austere environment so communication with the outside world was extremely limited.
We got to call home one day but due to the length of the line, each call was limited to just five minutes. I called my mother, but because of the time restraints and the fact that I stuttered, I let her do most of the talking to maximize the time.
Soon after Saddam’s capture, the rumors of our early departure spread like wildfire. Some soldiers were really excited that we’d be going home sooner rather than later.
Of course that was not the case. We would be in Iraq for eight more years.
After Samarra, we moved north to the city of Mosul to replace 101st.
On April 4, two of my soldiers were hit with a daisy chain IED while out on a convoy in Mosul. SPC Philip Rogers was killed instantly, while SPC Tyanna Felder would succumb to her wounds just three days later.
A month later, our battalion lost another soldier as SGT Isela Rubalcava, known by most as SGT Ruby, was killed when she was hit by flying shrapnel from a mortar while leaving the chow hall.
The brigade as a whole would lose countless others on that first deployment.
In all, there were roughly 4,487 casualties of war during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. In previous wars and conflicts, that number would have been much higher but was mitigated by advancements in medicine, training, technology, and transportation.
Between Iraq and Afghanistan there are well over a 1,200 amputees.
Over 32,000 soldiers were wounded in Iraq alone, not to mention the thousands who suffer internally with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The American people supported the soldiers in Iraq unconditionally for the duration of the war and we are forever grateful for that support, but for many, it’s not over. The battle has just begun, and they need your help now more than ever.
You can do your part by contacting your representatives to ensure they work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to end the backlog for those veterans filing claims.
Getting involved with worthy organizations such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Wounded Warrior Project are also ways to show your support for those who served voluntarily so you or your loved ones wouldn’t have to serve involuntarily.
Although we did have few bad apples amongst the ranks over the years, the overwhelming majority of soldiers served in a noble manner and made Iraq a better place for its people. Of that, I am certain.
So, on behalf of each and every soldier who has ever had the honor of wearing the uniform, I offer a sincere thank you for your past, present, and future support. We simply couldn’t do what we do without it.
We’re just hoping you don’t forget about us when we’re no longer wearing that uniform.