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 | The war in Iraq has entrenched in my soul lasting and profound impressions. It has empowered me with a never-ending source of strength. It has also plagued me with numbness and sorrow that I have come to accept will never depart my heart and mind.
Those who live through war carry with them a burdensome knowledge of the horrors that truly only death can erase. I live with this burden every day.
As a Marine officer, I served four tours in Iraq -- three centered on the violent city of Fallujah and a fourth was near Karbala. I first saw the moon dust-like sands of Iraq at age 24. During my tours, I ranged in rank from a first lieutenant to a captain. My tours in Iraq lasted from June 2004 until November 2007. I also served in Afghanistan from March 2010 to March 2011.
My primary role was that of an artillery officer, and in most cases I was assigned as an individual augment to units requiring a forward observer or someone with the skills needed to control fire support assets. During the tour in Karbala, I was on a small military training team. Our mission was to work in very isolated conditions to train the Iraqi army in counter-insurgency operations.
I saw a fair amount of combat over my tours. Certainly not as much as some but more than my fair share. I left for war thinking I would return unchanged. I believed I was invincible. I always performed my duties well in the fight, but after Iraq and a fifth tour in Afghanistan, I was burned out and left the military. I have and always will have a great deal of pride to have held the title of Marine. It is an honor I think I will never best. As a civilian, though, I realize the war took its toll.
I have moderate to high post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some nights I can't sleep. I often have a cold numbness to the world. After taking so many lives, losing so many friends, and enduring what so many have in combat, a part of me did die out there. Innocence was a casualty. I fear many others lost it too, but resist admitting it.
I spent a number of years alone. I avoided dating and social interaction. I stayed in my condo with the shades drawn and wanting nothing to do with the outside world. My PTSD makes it difficult to even see love in those closest to me. Although raised in a very religious family I even lost my belief in God. I wish more people knew that for those of us who made it back, the burden of war does not stop. It remains by your side. Like a song in the back of your mind that cannot be silenced.
Somehow, through it all, I found my soul mate. She is my wife now, and with her love and the love of my step-daughter I have found God again. Through His grace I believe I can understand the darkness my thoughts swim in a little more each day. I have a wonderful job now working for a large online retailer. My world is a far cry from sand storms and rocket attacks. I fear only my dreams now at night. The days do bring hope through and for that I am eternally grateful.
I believe the United States was right to enter Iraq. We had good intentions. I personally witnessed the change as Iraqis tasted freedom. It was beautiful. But I also know all too well the painful loss the death of a friend in war brings and countless other horrors. There will always be a part of me that wishes we had the power to trade all our gains in Iraq in return for the dead service members' lives back. I'd like to think I would side with freedom, but some days I just don't know if I could.
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