Fmr. general 10 years after the start of the Iraq War: “I’ve got to believe it’s worth it”

Martha Raddatz & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

On the Radar

 Ten years after the start of the Iraq War, former US Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli is still raw with emotion talking about the soldiers he lost during the war and says he'll "never forget" the day his troops came under fire on April 4, 2004, and he found himself powerless to help them.

"When that fight took place, I basically had to sit in my tactical operation center, listen to the radio, listen to my soldiers, some dying, and many being wounded, and I really couldn't do anything," recalls Chiarelli, who was not able to command his troops during the battle due to a rule that prohibited him from doing so until the completion of a command transition that was underway.

The retired general says he's "got to believe" the Iraq War was worth the sacrifice the United States made, but also says he saw things "no one should ever see."

"We saw murders every single night. We didn't really see them at night, we saw them in the mornings when we went on patrol. We would find men with hands tied behind their back and shot between the eyes, and there were days where we would find a hundred bodies out in the streets of Baghdad," says Chiarelli of the violence in Iraq during 2006.

And he finds himself still thinking about the letters he wrote to the families of fallen soldiers over the course of the war.

"I just didn't sign them, I wrote them, at least as a division commander I wrote to every parent and spouse," Chiarelli says, tearing up. "Almost 500, or more than 500 in 2006, so that was a very difficult time."

Now retired from the military, Chiarelli works at a non-profit organization One Mind for Research, researching traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress in hopes of improving treatment for these brain disorders that affect many veterans, as well as civilians.

"We have not done what is necessary to understand it to come up with better diagnostics and better treatments," Chiarelli says of these disorders. "We've got to put the resources against it, or quit saying that we are. Because that to me is absolutely critical. And I can tell you that in the area of traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress, we as a nation have not."

While Chiarelli is hopeful that more research can result in improved treatment for these brain disorders, he is not optimistic that the government will lead the way.

"I don't think the government's going to do it. So we have to put together public-private partnerships. We have to take what government money we can get, we have to appeal to private philanthropy," says Chiarelli, an ABC News Consultant.

To hear more of the interview with retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, including more details about his time in Iraq, check out this episode of On the Radar.

ABC's Eric Wray, Betsy Klein, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom D'Annibale, and Mark Barnes contributed to this episode.