Iraq. It wasn't a great war, it wasn't a "loved" war, and when they write the final history of this country, I think it will be nothing more than a foot note. It was contentious. It was painful. It was long. It still haunts me, the heat, the fear, and the death. For all the things the Iraq War was it is in the end my war. I own my own little slice of it, and that will be mine until I draw my last breath. Every day I walk the streets of America, a part of me is walking in Baghdad. Every drive I take through the mountains, hills and lowlands of West Virginia, a part of me drives through Kurdistan.
For me the war began in Basic. The whole company was called out on the CTA (company training area) and a big screen tv was rolled out from the day room. The entire company of basic trainees watched our Commander in Chief deliver the address on the eve of war. It was the first time I truly paid attention to what a President had to say, and the first time I realized that the words being spoken then would have an effect on my life. Even now 10 years later, the words spoken that day still ring in my ears. The echo of the concrete, and the solemn looks of citizens that weren't quite soldiers yet.
I never saw any of the news footage leading up to the fall of Baghdad, I was too busy training. But there was a new seriousness to the training. Everything from bayonets to basic life saving, before each class we were admonished to take it seriously because our lives would depend on it. 10 years later I can honestly say that indeed some of that training did save my life. When I went to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft Sam Houston, despite the irrepressible nature of the men and women who chose to be Combat Medics, the grim seriousness of our profession was driven home when we were shown a picture of a traumatic amputation above the knee that was survivable except that the tourniquet was tied improperly. The deceased was a medic. There was another series of pictures where a Corpsman went to help a wounded Marine, and was himself shot and killed by the sniper. He bled out while the Marines secured the position, the safety of cover only 20 feet away.
I remember the lead up to my first deployment. 25th ID may have set a record for longest sustained combat time in WWII, it might have had the most Medals of Honor in Korea and Vietnam, but when I got there it was assumed that the 25th would never see combat. Hawaii was that post you went to if you were very lucky, and most of the Army treated the division as a pariah. If a real war were to be fought you'd see 1st ID, 1st Cav of the famous 82nd or 101st go. Not those cushy, lazy guys in Hawaii. Then we got orders to go to war. A division that had forgotten how to fight any war but Vietnam was preparing to literally go around the world to fight in an environment as diametrically opposed to Hawaii as is possible on Earth. The Training I got in Hawaii did not instil confidence, but at the end of the day the American Soldier's greatest ability is to adapt and overcome. I can take away a certain pride in knowing that I was one of the first ones to earn an "electric strawberry" combat patch since the Vietnam War.
How do I explain Kurdistan? The Iraq America doesn't know about. The other Iraq. It was an area that ranged from horrendously deadly in Haweeja, that saw several days long battles, that took a whole battalion to secure, to the the sedate, even safe Ibril where a soldier could walk around in a soft cap without armor needing only fear the mobs of children trying to sell "bebsi". My 2,500 man brigade was given an area the size of West Virginia and told to make do. It was all very "seat of the pants" back then. Weld some plate steel on a cargo humvee, bolt a pole to the center of a bed and call it a "gun truck". I drove an LMTV that had plastic doors from Kuwait to Kirkuk with only sandbags under my ass for protection. Then I drove a humvee with no door. Then I drove an Ambulance that could barely get above 45 with coaxing, and threatened to shake apart at 50. I went on foot patrols. I trained Iraqis. It was a long year, and when I left I felt it had been left better than I had found it. The elections in 2005 seemed to prove that.
My experience in the Surge was a lot more traumatic. More fear. More death. Disgusting all around. I've talked at length about the Surge. We paid a high price for the small victories we achieved. 2007 was a crucible. We wrenched victory from the jaws of defeat, through our toil, through the very literal shedding of blood sweat and tears. We paid dearly for the small modicum of victory, and as soon as it seemed that Iraq wasn't the giant clusterf**k that it had been hyped up to be, the country seemed to forget. It was over almost as soon as General Petraeus testified before congress. Just as suddenly, the war for me was over.
But that's the thing, the war didn't quite end for me It still goes on. Every night I fight the same battles. The war didn't end with a bang, and many great parades. It ended with a speech by a different president, that I saw in the comfort of my own home. It ended with heartfelt reunions, and it ended with many of those that fought there going on to keep on fighting somewhere else. A lot of things have changed in 10 years. Iraq was my war. It changed me and in a small way I changed it. What I have done will be forgotten, doubtless in a few years school children will go back to being unable to find it on a map, but I know where it is. I know what it meant. Why the war started, or the question of "worth" will never diminish myself or anyone who fought there.
Sounds a lot like Vietnam, five years after. I'd like to say it diminishes, the intensity, but even just six months of patrolling and another six in a TOC didn't ease off for decades. As for Iraq, unlike Vietnam, I suspect we'll have to go back some day, to try and drain the swamp all over again. Probably be draftees next time, though.
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