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On March 19, the nation marked its fifth year of conflict in Iraq. Most of us have scarcely a clue about what a soldier’s day-to-day life is like.
Days later, a more sobering milestone was reached: the 4,000th U. While you may not know what it’s like to interrogate an insurgent or jump out of bed at 3 a.m. In recent years, an average of 45 to 70 graduates each year from UVA’s ROTC programs entered military service. The Virginia alumni serving in Iraq are not just infantrymen and aviators fighting insurgents, but also chaplains, physical therapists, doctors and administrators taking care of their own.
I was a platoon leader at the time, in charge of four helicopters, 10 pilots and six crew chiefs. You would hear an explosion, then an alarm would go off and everyone would put on their gas masks and move into protective bunkers.
That night was the first time any of us had actually seen the Patriot launch and intercept something.
That was the same night as the fratricide grenade attack by Sgt. I think we were all ready to get out of Kuwait at that point, even if it meant going into Iraq.
I worked in civil-military operations, and our goal was to create or improve all of Baghdad’s municipal institutions like hospitals, schools, banks and fire departments.
They are engineers and civil affairs officers helping to rebuild Iraq.
We contacted a handful of them—some of whom are in Iraq, others who have gone and returned—and asked about their experiences.
Our notion of the war in Iraq is often cobbled together from images on the evening news of roadside bomb explosions, flag-draped caskets and tanks rolling through expanses of sand in every shade of brown.
Those who served in the early days of the war often lived in tents, bombed-out office buildings, even Saddam Hussein’s palaces. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t.” The majority of cases we saw were everyday ailments, things like back pain and sore throats.
They went months without a proper shower or truly clean clothes, often in triple-digit temperatures. “I have the best job that any man could ask for,” writes Army Major Cris Simon (Col ’95) by e-mail from Iraq. But another part of our job was going down to the Army morgue and processing the paperwork for soldiers killed in action.
In November 2004, we had eight critically wounded soldiers come to us and we were able to save seven of them.
They were on an orientation ride in the area and they walked over to inspect something suspicious. When they arrived at our medical facility, the back doors of their armored personnel carriers dropped down and it was like a scene from a movie: critically injured men falling out with blood everywhere.
I was thankful they would never have to see him like that.