I have been to Iraq three times: From April 2003 to March of 2004, and back again, almost nine months later, from February 2005 to January 2006, I was with the same unit for both of those deployments, 596th Signal Company, 125th Forward Support Battalion, 3rd “Bulldog” Brigade, 1st Armored Division, out of Fort Riley Kan. My last deployment was a 15-month tour (one of the last of the 15-month tours), from December 2007 to March 2009, with the 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion out of Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
But what does it mean to me to have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom? Maturity —having to grow up in a split second because you have a baby on the way, and knowing that now it is not just about you, it is about having to feed a family and come home safe to them. The hardships endured (included) missing my wife and kids, missing baby steps, birthdays and anniversaries … You have to be strong for them and they have to be strong for you. The little things in life make you appreciate what you leave at home once you are gone for so long.
What stays uppermost in mind is the camaraderie that you develop with your fellow teammates. You live with a person for so long that you get to know what they like and dislike. You know that they have your back and that you have theirs. It makes you appreciate their presence, serving with great Americans that have answered the call to duty — it is an experience that you will never forget.
Growing up in the ranks, you had Vietnam Veterans and Desert Storm veterans to look up to. And now as we return to a sense of normalcy, the veterans of the Iraq War are the ones that young Soldiers are going to be looking up to for the experience and leadership as we set the example for them.
I believe that the end of operations in Iraq means that we made history, not only for the Army, but for the American people. At least we know now that we can overcome any adversity and unite as a country.