What Is The Iraq War Really Like? The Veterans Tell Their Stories

November 11th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: What Is The Iraq War Really Like? The Veterans Tell Their Stories

New York Times
November 11, 2006
Pg. B1

By Alan Feuer
One hears a lot of talk about the Iraq war — talk of casualties, quagmires, exit strategies. What is not heard much are the voices of those who fight the war. A veteran’s story cuts across divides, cuts through politics. It has a way of silencing a room.
On Veterans Day in 2000, Gov. George E. Pataki established the New York State Veteran Oral History Program to preserve the stories of New York veterans in their own words. The program is run out of a small state armory in Saratoga Springs where two men, Michael Russert and Wayne D. Clarke, who work for the New York State Military Museum, conduct interviews in a casual style on videotape.
So far, 1,304 veterans from as far back as World War I have contributed their tales. Only a handful are Iraq war veterans, Mr. Clarke said, largely because they have only recently come home and many are still reluctant to speak.
What follows are excerpts from the tales of four who served in Iraq, from the commanding general of a National Guard division to the first sergeant of a Regular Army regiment. They touch upon the large and small experiences of war: death, fear, e-mail, camaraderie and coming home.
As one of the four, Sgt. Howard Heard, put it: “You watch it in on TV, but when you get there, it’s like, ‘Man, this is really happening. It’s just totally different than you think.’ ” Here is what the people who have been there think.
Sgt. Howard Heard, 130th Engineer Brigade, 10th Mountain Division
Three ways you coming back
They had snipers there, oh yeah. I remember we invaded Falluja and we were stretched pretty thin then. Matter of fact, we had one guy just two weeks out of training at Fort Hood, Texas. He was here one week and he got killed; a sniper shot him underneath the armpit. He bled to death. I mean, we lost 3 guys out of 700. They told us we’d lose 30 before we left Fort Drum. So we lost three guys too many, but three’s not bad. ... People say, “Well what do you think?” I say, “Well, you coming back, you just don’t know how.” There’s only three ways you coming back. You can come back in a box. You can come back missing a limb. Or you can come back with everything you left with. And that’s my theory on that.
Stay focused
I told my guys: “Don’t slack off. You got two weeks left. Let’s keep it going.” We had one guy there, the day before he went home he got mortared at the PX. And he got killed — supposed to go home the next day. That’s why I told the guys, “See what happens? You never know.” You can’t let your hair down. You got to stay focused. Just stay focused.
Maj. David C. Feeley, Second Brigade, First Infantry Division
Small town
There were several Shiite religious parties in Samarra. We had the Badr Corps, which was the armed wing of Sciri [the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq]. We had some Al Qaeda operatives that were operating in the town. And given the proximity to the air base and the proximity to Baghdad, we had former high-ranking members of the Baath Party. On a couple of raids we executed we found drugs, large footlockers filled with Parkinson’s disease medication that was apparently being distributed as a cheap drug for people who were addicted and because it suppressed the fear response in the people making attacks on us. Small town, a lot going on.
Spray and pray
I would not classify anything I saw in Iraq as sniper fire. I would classify a lot of it as inaccurate rifle fire. Someone who is on drugs and randomly shooting an AK-47 is not a sniper. We did capture a Russian sniper rifle at least once in our area, but as far as accurate, precision rifle fire, that was not what we typically encountered. What we typically encountered was spray and pray on the part of the Iraqis.
Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, 42nd Infantry Division, New York National Guard
Inhibited by security problems
At the leader level, we had wonderful relationships with the Iraqis. We worked together, we socialized together, we talked. Our units worked together. I had wonderful relationships with the governors of each province. I had good relationships with many of the tribal leaders in central Iraq, the sheiks. Our relationships down into the community, though, were inhibited by security problems, the fact that some of the people felt threatened hanging out with U.S. forces. ... Our impression was they wanted to embrace us. And they did embrace us at those levels I described, but it wasn’t like you could go down into the community and in amongst the common, ordinary, nongovernmental, nonmilitary leaders and break bread.
An asymmetrical war
The people in the National Guard feel good about what they’re doing, the fact that they’re making a significant contribution. The sacrifice is great, but the morale is good. Our country is at war. We have been in a new type of war, an asymmetrical war, where it’s 360 degrees and all around you. ... We have been working and preparing for it for some time. But this is a new evolution in warfare.
First Sgt. Kevin Lyons, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment
Fox News
Finally some local Iraqis went across the Syrian border, and they were buying televisions and satellite dishes. So this squadron bought one — and Fox News! It was like the greatest thing. It was the biggest event we had in two months. They hooked up the satellite dish and there was Fox News. I’m sitting there in Iraq and we’d go up to the briefing room, and if we didn’t have anything to do we’d sit there for hours at a time. At night we stayed up late just to watch Fox News.
It doesn’t get any easier
We didn’t know how anybody was. There was Strobel, Sergeant Jake and Sergeant Williams in the vehicle. Later on that evening we found out that Strobel had been evacuated because the I.E.D. [improvised explosive device] had perforated his eardrums. And we found out at the same time that Sergeant Williams didn’t make it. I had gone through this before, but it doesn’t get easier. You just figure it does. You try and make yourself believe it does. But now I’ve got this new job. I was the first sergeant of the troop, and they said: “Hey, now we have to do this memorial ceremony. You have to read the guy’s name, and you have to do it like three times.” It was probably the toughest thing I ever done except for one other thing. ... It was rough. Unfortunately, he passed on, but he’s in a better place, and that was the only name I read the entire time over there.
The best days
Once e-mail started, it was great. I would try to make it up there every other day to e-mail my wife. Those had to be some of the best days. It just felt like you were there. You get pictures from home, you get to send pictures. You’re telling her you’re all right, but she’s like: “How do I know? I haven’t seen anything or heard from you in months.” ... Technology had to be about the greatest thing about this war.
We landed on the ground in Colorado Springs Airport, and it was awesome. Just to know that you were home. Just to know that you were safe. Just to know you made it back in one piece. And at the same time you take a second to think, “Not everybody’s back yet, and not everybody came back.” But then you get in there, and as we were walking off the plane the first thing we get is this guy, he’s a civilian, he works for one of the local companies, and he took his personal — somebody said upwards of $10,000 — and he bought Quarter Pounders, hundreds of them, and he had them right there, and he’s handing them out to everybody. He’s got a big American flag on his pickup truck, just handing out Quarter Pounders. ... Then you walk inside them doors, and they’re playing “American Soldier” by Toby Keith. Man, you get in there and there’s all these people and they’re cheering and it’s the greatest feeling in the world. And then when you’re done, they release you and there’s your wife and son. And then you know you’re home.

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