As we near the 10-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Yahoo News asked U.S. servicemen and women who served to share their perspectives and discuss how it changed them. Here's one story.
FIRST PERSON | When American ground troops reached Baghdad in April 2003, I was a 21-year-old delivery driver for a national auto parts chain in Searcy, Ark., where I had recently moved to play in a rock n' roll band with several friends.
I was 500 miles away from my northwest Georgia home, and I had several friends involved in the invasion. Some I knew from high school and others from my time in the Marines.
I remember stopping by my apartment between deliveries, watching American troops and Iraqi civilians pull down the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square and thinking that I should be there, that I should be doing something -- anything -- other than hauling around discount auto parts to small town mechanics.
Did you serve in Iraq? Interested in sharing your story? Learn more here.
Less than 11 months later -- in March 2004 -- I would be swearing in to my hometown Army National Guard unit, and by the first week of December of that same year I was activated for deployment to Iraq. After a six-month train-up, the 1/108th Armor Battalion of the 48th Infantry Brigade was in charge of one of the most volatile and dangerous areas of operation in the world at the time and my war would officially begin.
At the rank of specialist (E-4), I was originally deployed as a member of Headquarters Company Support Platoon and would be assigned at Forward Operating Base St. Michael near Mahmudiyah, in an area dubbed the "Triangle of Death" by the locals. The 108th, under the command of Lt. Col. John King, would occupy a triangle shaped area of operation including the cities of Mahmudiyah, Latifiya and Yusufiyah. The city of Yusufiyah's proximity to Fallujah and the availability of weapons caches from a nearby abandoned Republican Guard base made the entire area extremely dangerous, especially from IED (improvised explosive device) attacks, which were a daily occurrence.
After several weeks on gate guard and QRF (Quick Reaction Force), I was recruited for the battalion commander's PSD (Personal Security Detachment) after several soldiers were injured in a series of IED attacks. I was made the gunner atop the detachment leader's HMMWV, where I would remain the rest of my yearlong tour.
During my deployment I had some of the best and worst moments of my life. I experienced pure joy and extreme sadness, love and hate, and, of course, fear. I would experience adrenaline rushes while engaged in combat that became almost addicting and that are impossible to replicate in the "real" world. I met four-star generals, a former presidential candidate and developed close bonds of brotherhood that will last a lifetime. I saw men I knew die; I saw close friends narrowly escape death right before my eyes, and I had a few close calls myself. I got shot at and shot back more times than I care to count. I was baptized for the first time in the Euphrates River by our chaplain and got to spend a day exploring the ruins of Babylon and saw the Ziggurat at Ur in person.
My time in Iraq changed my life. Some for the better, some for the worst, but changes that cannot be undone, and I wouldn't want them to. I left parts of me over there and I hope one day to return and maybe retrieve them. I would like to return; to a safe and prosperous country where I can take a taxi to places I almost died and show my wife and daughter where I became the way I am now. One can only hope.