Country Road, Take Me Home: Last of the Combat Troops Leave Iraq

I’ll never forget where I was when it began.  It was March 19, 2003.  I had only met Joanna–now my wife–that previous year, and I had just that week moved into a second-floor apartment in Drexel Hill, PA, about 30 minutes outside Philadelphia. It was unseasonably cold, and I was wearing layers while doing work in the second bedroom.

Reports had come across the television of an attack on some compound in the outer reaches of Baghdad.  Rumor had it that American stealth fighters might have been targeting Saddam Hussein in an attempt to land a single decapitating blow in advance of the decapitating offensive which, unbeknownst to most everyone, would come less than a day later.  Obviously, they didn’t get him.  Yet.

The following day, while we later learned that special operations troops were working feverishly behind enemy lines and had been for a while, for most of us it began for real with “Shock & Awe.”  As I watched the Baghdad skyline light up live on Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN, I recall thinking that I was only 12 years old during the first Gulf War, when television screens tuned to the latter came alive with tracer rounds and studly reporters dramatically reacting to Scud missile attacks.  Some of the characters and locations remained the same, but it was immediately clear that a dozen years of technological advances would make the broadcast of the pending conflict a completely different experience.

I’ve never been one for a television in the bedroom–it just doesn’t belong there–so as the wee hours of the morning approached and the static camera shots showing a smouldering Iraqi capital were replaced by incredibly dynamic broadcasts from armored vehicles crossing the desert, I recall falling asleep with pillow and blanket on my sofa, managing a few more prayers for the safety of our bravest men and women as my eyelids grew heavy from a long day of rapt attentiveness.

That was how combat operations in Iraq began.  Yesterday, the last of the American combat troops left Iraq and crossed into Kuwait.  HotAir‘s Allahpundit pointed out an admittedly fantastic report from NBC Nightly News:

Of course, as Col. Jack Jacobs is quick to remind us, operations in general in Iraq are far from over.  50,000 U.S. troops remain behind.  Some will die.  The continued reality of a nation burdened by uncertainty and still besieged by violence, however, should not take away from the accomplishments of those brave men and women who, over the past seven-plus years, have displayed unfathomable courage and selflessness and have sacrificed so much.  Those men and women left Iraq yesterday and return stateside in the days and weeks to come heroes one and all, and each and every one of us who enjoy our freedom with every passing day owe a tremendous amount to them and their families.

It should be noted, too, that credit should be given where credit is due.  This administration and Congress will gloat–ohhhh, will they gloat–but I honestly cannot say that they are truly undeserving in that regard.  Sure, without needing much time to think I can probably rattle off a few dozen specific instances over the past seven-plus years when it appeared that those across the political aisle were actively working against the best interest of our fighting men and women overseas.  And sure, I bristle at the thought of the kinds of things which were said by many on the left, statements directed at honorable men like Gen. David Petraeus and individual soldiers alike.

However, just as it took a fair amount of intestinal fortitude for former President George W. Bush to recognize the three-year-long stagnation in Iraq and provide Gen. Petraeus with the resources and political capital he needed to implement his counterinsurgency plan, it took a tremendous amount of fortitude for President Barack Obama to sideline his otherwise ample ego enough to accept a reality check and with a few exceptions maintain the strategy he had previously maligned, a strategy implemented by the very predecessor which he blamed for everything from joblessness to tacky window treatments in the White House residence.  Standing firm with Gen. Petraeus and, by extension, George W. Bush required a vast departure from the will of his base, and for doing the right thing–for the most part, at least–Obama deserves some credit.

Unfortunately, when it comes to credit, I expect him to take it all in the inevitable upcoming prime time speech, whether it be from the same desk his predecessor sat behind when he launched the first attack or whether it be before a joint session of Congress.  Unfortunately, I expect him to avoid the name “Bush” as overtly and obviously as he has avoided the use of words like “victory” or “win” or “triumph” in previous speeches on the subject.  The withdrawal of combat troops, he’ll say, does not denote a “mission accomplished” (note the dig at George W. Bush), but nonetheless could not have been accomplished without his specific setting of a withdrawal deadline.  That’s how it will go down, my friends, and it’s a shame.

Nevertheless, this should be cause for some cautious celebration.  The coming days and weeks are vital, of course, but the sight of combat troops crossing the border into Kuwait for the last time should be enough to make any American proud of a job well done so far.

So much has changed since the war in Iraq began those many years ago.  In my own life, I’ve managed to find a wife, have and raise a four-year-old daughter, obtain a law degree at night, and move 700 miles down the Atlantic coast.  I cannot help but think of how meager those life changes are, however, when weighed alongside the day-to-day sacrifices made by our soldiers and their families.  How many have lost their lives?  How many have watched helplessly from afar, putting their lives on the line each day in the dusty streets of urban Iraq while everything unravels at home in their absence?  How many have missed the birth of their own children?  How many have received that cruel “I’m sorry, but…” letter from their husbands or wives at home?  How many awaken each night with nightmares?  How many feel misunderstood, trapped, isolated, out of place?

Seven years can feel like a lifetime for any of us.  For someone who hopes and prays to make it through the next five blistering minutes of a firefight, seven years must feel like an absolute eternity.

NOTE: If any of you have served in Iraq, and would like to share your perspective through sharing a story or two, please do.  I’ve never been in your shoes (I couldn’t possibly fill them) and cannot understand firsthand what you have seen, what you have done, what you have felt.  While yesterday’s withdrawal of combat troops was anything but the end of operations in Iraq, it is nonetheless a momentous occasion, and it would serve all of us well to better understand what our veterans experienced there.  So please share, if you’d like, and feel free to just put “Iraq Veteran” in for your name, if it makes you feel better.

In the meantime, regardless of whether you feel comfortable sharing, thank you for your service.    — Jeff

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Comments

  1. Anony says:

    I have trouble giving Obama credit for ANYTHING. But he did stay the course in Iraq even after denouncing it repeatedly as the WRONG WAR and whatever else he said bad about it and everyone involved. Continuing the Bush strategy must not have been easy, and he should get a pat on the back for that.

    Still just once I would like to see him give credit to W.

    Great article, Jeff

  2. StevenKent says:

    I salute the troops! Job well done, even if it is still in progress.

    SK

  3. whats_up says:

    Great article Jeff. God Bless those men and women who gave of themselves so selflessly to defend our freedoms. Once engaged they didnt worry about politics they simply did their jobs. Kudos to my cousins, so thanful you made it home safe, God Bless.

  4. Anonymous says:

    RIP Saddam, any spider holes where you’re at now?

    MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

  5. O brothers, where art thou? says:

    Anybody miss Uday and Qusay? Such nice boys.

  6. Dee says:

    My youngest son was on the USS Lincoln, the ship that sent off the first bombs, when this started. He was gone for 2 months and for 2 months I had a knot in my stomach and a news station on my computer at work all the time. He was an aeronautic electrician who worked on the Prowler, the Navy’s spy plane at the time. He spent his 2 months on the flight deck, which I did not realize until he got home, and found out that it is a very dangerous place to work. He said they had to wear life vests all the time in case they were blown off the deck. He did say that it was exciting and he felt like he was finally using all the training he had learned for the past 3 years. The ship’s mission was accomplished when President Bush landed on the Lincoln. Bush ate in the mess hall with the men and met as many of them as possible.
    To this day I pray each day for the safety of our troops and when possible I thank them or buy them a meal.
    Hopefully, they will return home safely.

  7. Boston Blackie says:

    “For someone who hopes and prays to make it through the next five blistering minutes of a firefight, seven years must feel like an absolute eternity.”

    I can’t even imagine being in that situation. Let’s hope our veterans are treated better than our Vietnam veterans were. Let’s hope they get any support they will need after their return and discharge. Being married to a Vietnam vet, I can tell you that sadly this government treats all their vets terribly when care is needed. We should be required to volunteer in a V.A. hospital.

    To ALL veterans that have served at any time, I say THANK YOU and may God bless you.

  8. William A. Rose says:

    Boston Blackie, I didn’t know your husband is a vet. Army? The he’s one of my “brothers in arms”. Just a different era. Give him my best wishes.

  9. William A. Rose says:

    And regards.

  10. John Buyon says:

    thank the US troops and thank the Iraqi citizens for having the patience to live under american occupation for seven years and for having the courage to take over and run their country themselves while standing up to thugs like Saddam and the jihadis.

    thank Bush for having foresight by sticking with the surge despite it being incredibly unpopular and ridiculed everyday.

    thank Obama because he had the courage to betray his political base by doing what is right for this country and Iraq by continuing the counter-insurgency plan.

  11. Kevin says:

    Seven years is a stretch. But it’s a shame the media couldn’t find the time or resources to document the actual living conditions prior to the shock and awe invasion. Then show the schools, hospitals, improved infrastructure, etc. Most people back here in the States would be thinking, “wow, they did all that in just seven years”. I watched two construction firms build a bridge near my home, it took two years. Hats off to everyone who worked towards this goal, military and civilian.

  12. Jeff Schreiber says:

    Buyon, right on.

  13. Sam says:

    Wow, I had to go out, rub my eyes, and come back in….. there’s well rounded appreciation in here.

  14. Boston Blackie says:

    William Rose-
    Thank you, I passed on your wishes to my husband. He was a Marine (or I should say is since he continues to remind me that there is no such thing as a former Marine). He also thanks you for your service as well.

    John Buyon-
    Well said!!
    See what a couple of months enjoying this great country can do for your mindset :)
    Kevin-
    I agree, what those brave men and women did in just seven years is mind boggling.

  15. WH Travel Office says:

    Bring em all home to a well deserved R&R at Martha’s Vineyard.

  16. OMB says:

    A $35 smiley tax has been posted to Boston Blackies bank account, per Obamacare regulation..

  17. Dee says:

    Boston Blackie, please thank your husband for me. I was in college during that time and watched my classmates protest. I truly felt bad at the treatment the Vietnam Vets received when they returned.
    John Buyon, I totally agree with you.

    Thanks to all our vets and may God watch over them.

  18. Gail B. says:

    I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in Iraq! My mouth would have gotten me killed.

    Great article, Jeff. I stand in awe of every member of all branches of the military services and thank the Lord that my sons didn’t have to be subjected to war (and that my stomach didn’t have to stay in knots over it). My late uncle served in WW II, and what I understood about war as a child really did a number on me because of worrying about his safety. I had nightmares about people trying to shoot him or stab him in the back because he couldn’t see them first to defend himself. He made it through the war, and he sobered up when it was over!

  19. Dean says:

    I sit here reading all these wonderful comments with tears running down my cheeks – tears of pride and joy that we all are proud of our military members and the wonderful job they have done in Iraq/Kuwait/Afghanistan. I also weep for those who came home from Vietnam to jeers, insults, name calling, and being spat upon – to be turned on by your own countrymen is a hurt that never goes away. Was it 35 years ago? It seems like only yesterday!

  20. Expedia says:

    8:36, all those decorated get a bonus trip to Spain. First a very brief stopover in the Gulf.

  21. Boston Blackie says:

    “I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in Iraq! My mouth would have gotten me killed.”

    LMAO, my husband tells me that my mouth is gonna get me killed all the time.
    You can take the kid outta the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto outta the kid. Gail, I would be proud to roll in the dirt and kick butt with you anytime.

    Let’s all remember the USO and what they do for our service men and woman everyday.

  22. Great piece. Jeff, you are a master wordsmith. Thank you.

  23. Veteran and Military Wife says:

    Jeff, not all combat troops are out of Iraq. This is the biggest farce I have personally be aware of on the American public. My husband just finished up 2 weeks of R&R and went right back over there. He flies the Kiowa Warrior in a COMBAT Aviation Brigade. That CAB will be in Iraq well into next year. They are not training anyone. This announce was a fancy play on words and political posturing.

    Someone PLEASE tell the bad guys the war is over. A dear friend I went through flight school with is over there right now flying MEDEVAC. Her helicopter is CLEARLY marked with red crosses. She has taken rocket fire RECENTLY.

    This announcement is a facade.

    Ask my children if all the combat troops are out of Iraq and they’ll quote Joe Wilson, they just sent their daddy back to “fight bad monsters in the desert.”

  24. Jeff Schreiber says:

    I wanted to put this in boldface. Thank you.

    “Jeff, not all combat troops are out of Iraq. This is the biggest farce I have personally be aware of on the American public. My husband just finished up 2 weeks of R&R and went right back over there. He flies the Kiowa Warrior in a COMBAT Aviation Brigade. That CAB will be in Iraq well into next year. They are not training anyone. This announce was a fancy play on words and political posturing.

    Someone PLEASE tell the bad guys the war is over. A dear friend I went through flight school with is over there right now flying MEDEVAC. Her helicopter is CLEARLY marked with red crosses. She has taken rocket fire RECENTLY.

    This announcement is a facade.

    Ask my children if all the combat troops are out of Iraq and they’ll quote Joe Wilson, they just sent their daddy back to “fight bad monsters in the desert.”

  25. Needed: (1) Prince of Peace says:

    We do all realize, I guess, that that entire swath of the globe is mentally ill and will be crazy till the very end.

  26. Good call says:

    Joe Wilson for President 2012

  27. Gail B. says:

    See? America’s Right is where the truth is found!

    And, Boston Blackie, the honor and pleasure would be mine–to roll in the dirt and kick butt with you! Thanks!

    I have a lone bumper sticker that reads, “I DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA.” People who see my car in parking lots are telling me that they like the bumper sticker.

  28. Sam says:

    Gail, my bumper sticker says “TALK TO THE SCREEN”,
    and my coffee mug says “READERSHIP WE CAN BELIEVE IN”.

    Such a shallow orator.

    I miss you Mr. Reagan.

  29. Gail B. says:

    Can someone shed a little light on this? There was an agreement, BEFORE obama (lower case intentional because he just ain’t proper!) took office, between Iraq and the United States, specifying what the U.S. troops COULD do and COULDN’T do, right down to their uniforms and driver licenses and complete with dates of when the U.S. troops would leave. (Google “Agreement between Iraq and United States” to read it.)

    On what grounds is obama claiming that HE is ending the war?

  30. Gail B. says:

    Sam, my coffee cup says “WHAT DEADLINE?” and was given to me for Christmas by the girl who edited my articles and helped put the paper together.

    The deadline was 4 p.m. Friday, but mine was (first) 9 a.m. Monday, then 11 a.m., then anytime that afternoon if there was a place to put it! I worked all weekend long usually. Deadlines were a joke.

    I still research before I write, even for here.

  31. Sam says:

    It shows Gail, you throw powerful punches.

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