I sat glued to the television, watching the clock slowly tick away to zero. President Bush had given Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi regime 48 hours to relinquish control of the nation. The build up to war had been on the forefront of American political talk for the better part of six months, and thousands of American troops had been deployed to Kuwait in preparation for the war. A decade earlier my father had been part of Operation Desert Storm and helped oust Iraqi control over Kuwait, now just a few short years into his retirement he sat with me to watch America once again go toe-to-toe with the Iraqis. When the clock struck zero and Saddam remained in power, we knew war was inevitable. Within hours of the deadline the shock and awe campaign commenced and the American news media blasted images back to us of smart bombs destroying targets throughout Baghdad.
A few short years later I stepped foot on an airfield in Mosul, following in my father’s footsteps of military service. By now the situation in Iraq had deteriorated and civil war between the Shiite and Sunni sects was inevitable. When I deployed, it was understood that Mosul had largely been pacified but the reality spoke a completely different story. Within days of arriving in Iraq I was patrolling the streets and experiencing my baptism of fire. The insurgents threw everything they had at us, using suicide car bombs and improvised explosive devices to target our Stryker vehicles. Despite the inherent danger exposed toward myself and other soldiers, morale remained high and by the time our brigade was diverted to Baghdad to support the surge, we had suffered only light casualties while largely ensuring we left Mosul in a better state than we found it.
Baghdad is an enormous city, one with a deeply rich heritage and history. Our time in Baghdad was short. We supported operations there for three months. In December 2006 the Stryker I was in was destroyed in an IED attack outside of Sadr City. While the magnitude of the attack would have resulted in catastrophic loss for all of us aboard had it been a smaller vehicle, the Stryker shrugged off the attack and continued the mission. Despite having all eight tires destroyed and engulfed in flames we were able to limp the wounded vehicle back to our Forward Operating Base at Tajji, nearly 40 miles north of Baghdad.
In March 2007 our brigade was diverted yet again, this time to support operations in Baqubah. Baqubah was a city of 500,000 people about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad and had been declared the “al-Qaeda capital” of Iraq. Operations in Baqubah were intense. Our first day in the city I witnessed a M1A2 tank fire its main gun into a building where insurgents had fired on our patrol. The fight for Baqubah was the defining moment in my short military career. Prior to our diversion to the city, my battalion had suffered very light casualties, with only two soldiers being killed in action. In the next six months we suffered debilitating losses. On 6 May 2007 a single IED strike took the lives of an entire squad from our Alpha Company. Despite being undermanned and surrounded in the city, our battalion continued to take the fight against the enemy.
In late June 2007, our battalion received support from the rest of our brigade and Operation Arrowhead Ripper commenced. The Battle of Fallujah tends to receive all the attention in regards to post-invasion operations, but in Arrowhead Ripper we utilized more airpower and artillery strikes than had been used since the invasion of Iraq began four years earlier. We cleared every street, every house, and every bastion that the insurgents had held in the two month operation. By September 2007 our battalion had been engaged in direct combat with the enemy for 15 long months and orders finally came for our return home. The return was bittersweet. Baqubah had been pacified but the cost was high. On our return our battalion was awarded the Valorous Unit Citation for operations in Iraq and within the brigade our battalion had the highest number of Silver Stars and Distinguished Service Crosses awarded. I returned home to my wife and kids, one of the lucky few who had made it out of the fight largely unscathed. I continued my service for a few more years following the war, but in the end injuries sustained in combat ended my career. I was retired from the Army in January 2010 and while my life has taken many twists and turns in the years that have followed, those 15 months in Iraq will forever shape me into the man I am today.
Look for more information regarding the recent war in Iraq in the upcoming Modern War issue #20 with the article “Drive on Baghdad: Joint Warfare & Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003” and join the conversation on Facebook!