First Person: Forever Changed After Service in Iraq

My Experiences and Views on Iraq a Decade After the U.S. Led Invasion

Yahoo Contributor Network

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One of the last photos taken of me before I left the service in 2011.

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 | On March 19, 2003, when the U.S. military invaded Iraq, I was 18 and in Navy basic training. We had no TV, but the recruits were taken elsewhere to watch the televised event unfold. I didn't go because I was standing watch, and my training commander said I would miss the fun. I responded that I would most likely witness it first-hand myself one day.

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A Marine colonel pins the Iraq Campaign Medal as well as a Joint Service Commendation Medal to my uniform.

Did you serve in Iraq? Interested in sharing your story? Learn more here.

I deployed to Iraq twice. The first was in 2005 aboard the USS Carl Vinson, and the second was in 2007-2008, embedded with the Army in Baghdad, Iraq and it's this deployment I'd like to discuss.

I was 23 and a Second Class Petty Officer (E-5). My task was to document the war for historical preservation. I traveled the country to collect data, pictures, artifacts and I interviewed multiple individuals to ensure the efforts of our military would be remembered.

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A picture taken outside a checkpoint near a base in Baghdad, Iraq.

I witnessed and learned of many acts that ranged from heroic to atrocious. I interviewed troops who described events endured like the loss of comrades, close calls in combat and the overall daily life of service in Iraq.

Many Americans are at least aware of the videos terrorists posted online of beheadings and other atrocities, but because of my job I saw hundreds. One particular video was of a man who cried his children's names while begging his captors for his life. He had three daughters, and I watched this video as he was violently executed. It's now a rare occurrence, but I occasionally wake up hearing his screams echoing in my head.

I can't answer what we as a nation gained by invading Iraq, or whether invading was the right thing to do. What I can say is my belief as to why our service members answer our nation's call, regardless of where it takes them or the reasoning. I believe troops fight not for love of country nor orders handed down, but because of those who stand beside them. They fight because the men and women one serves with become his family, and these warriors selflessly risk their own lives for those of the family who surround them in arms.

Iraq affected my life in many ways. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2008 and it wasn't caused by the close calls on my life, but the atrocities I was made aware of and my inability to come to terms with them. This cost me my first true relationship, pushed me to the brink of contemplating suicide and required therapy to learn to live with my knowledge of human depravity.

I am now a forever changed, but happy man. Iraq will always be with me, but I know how to cope and encourage anyone suffering symptoms of PTSD to seek help.

If asked to do it again, even if it meant sacrificing everything, I would without hesitation. I would because standing shoulder-to-shoulder with such high-caliber warriors, at sea and in Iraq, was the most rewarding experience of my life.

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