First Person: Combat in Kirkuk Changed My Life

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First Person: Combat in Kirkuk Changed My Life
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First Person: Combat in Kirkuk Changed My Life

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 I watched the planes hit the twin towers in Manhattan, I felt I had to do something. It devastated me.

I called my military supervisor to see if there was something I could do. I had served in the Michigan Air National Guard Selfridge Air National Guard Base since 1988. Several of our F-16s were deployed to intercept suspicious aircraft. In February 2004, I was told I would be deploying to Iraq. The commander told us during our out-briefing that several missiles hit Kirkuk Air Base that week.

As we landed at Kirkuk, we could smell the stanch of the methane from the oil fields. We in-briefed quickly were assigned our flak jackets and started inserting the plates, when a RPG came through the roof of the building we were in. We ran to a squared-off area of T barriers with bullets scarfing at our feet.

This is not what I had expected. My life changed forever that day.

Every day we were hit with mortars and missiles for five hours a day. After a few weeks, I was performing an acceptance run of an F-16 jet engine when I felt something hit me in the chest; it was a bullet and luckily it hit my flak jacket. I was shot again running another engine a few weeks later.

The tension was very high. We never took anything for granted -- even as simple as waking up for our next shift. Normally, we would say, "Good night. See you tomorrow." But we told our friends, "Good night. See you in the morning, God willing." That is, if a missile did not find us as we slept. We felt we were going to die at any second.

Our call name was Bud Company; we were the most-called-for aircraft in Iraq. We saved many pinned-down soldiers. Every day we received many letters of gratitude from the ground forces whose lives we saved.

Midway through my deployment of six months, I heard a missile hit very close. I started running to a bunker outside the clam shell I worked in. As I rose to my feet, I was blown off my feet and hit a steel work bench with the next missile.

I never heard that missile that blew me up. I broke my ankle and tore the cartilage in my right knee. I stayed the rest of my rotation. I tied my boot as tight as I could to prevent swelling and dragged my leg when the pain was too intense.

When I got home, life was different. I returned to my job as an engineer, and I found it difficult to perform my job. Concentration was difficult and I couldn't solve mathematic equations that I found easy to solve before combat. Loud noises made me jump out of my skin. I was constantly on guard. In a restaurant, I had to sit with my back against the wall.

It took several years before I was diagnosed with PTSD. I deployed again in 2007 to Ballad, Iraq, and the burn pits destroyed my lungs. It was discovered I had PTSD, and COPD after the 2007 deployment. I am disabled, per Social Security, but I am still fighting the VA for full disability.

Today I do a lot of volunteer work for the military and their families. I am an ombudsman for Employer Support of Guard and Reserve, Selfridge Family Support, and the Friends of Selfridge. Looking back we accomplished a lot for the Iraqi people.

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