LANCASTER – On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush announced the start of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. Ten years have passed since this monumental broadcast that impacted millions of lives on a worldwide scale, in both positive and negative ways.
Opinions raged on both ends of the spectrum. Some say the war was completely unnecessary and unwanted. Others say it was a much-needed decision and support all that has been done. One of the main questions people have today center around how the soldiers who served in Iraq feel about their experiences.
“Calling to mind the past 10 years, I could not be prouder of the service to my country,” said current Air Force Reservist Master Sergeant Johnathon L. Ervin, who served as part of a special program innovation team in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “I know the work we did continues to support our nation’s security and protect our men and women in harm’s way.”
Most U.S. troops are proud of their experiences and service during the Iraq war, saying they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“I think the world knows we are not going to sit around and do nothing when we feel that there is a possible threat,” said U.S. Marine Sergeant Carlos Ulloa, who was in charge of protecting the General when going into towns to speak with the Sheikhs, Iraqi leaders and governors. “I wanted to serve my county. I couldn’t expect anyone to protect my freedom if I was not willing to protect it for myself.”
The main objective behind Operation Iraqi Freedom was to release Iraq from Saddam Hussein and to spread freedom and democracy throughout the area. The U.S. troops on site assisted in this mission.
“One of the proudest moments during my tenure in the military was working to get Global Hawk, one of the first production UAVs, up and running in order to defend and provide continued support for the U.S. Forces on the streets of Baghdad,” recalls Ervin. “I can still remember hearing the National Anthem playing after it was announced that U.S. Forces had taken control of the city.”
Citizens of Iraq had mixed emotions regarding the U.S. presence. Nearly one million Iraqi citizens, both insurgents and civilians, were killed throughout the war.
“I left right before the Iraqi were voting, so it was getting hot again,” says Ulloa. I feel like they were happy. Some of them didn’t like us, but as with anywhere, people love us or hate us. I was just happy seeing people say thank you to us.”
Approximately 4,500 U.S. service members lost their lives and nearly 33,000 were wounded during the war in Iraq. The financial cost of the war totaled nearly $3 trillion for the United States. The war led to the eventual apprehension and execution of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, as well as helping to lead the Iraqi government to a more democratic, but not yet stable, administration.
“I know that our nation is in a much better place since Operation Iraqi Freedom,” explains Ervin. “Our country has, in the past 10 years, strengthened its foreign policy and has worked to build a stronger, more stable Iraq.”
In June 2009, U.S. troops withdrew from the towns and cities in Iraq and officially passed over security duties to the new Iraqi forces. Iraq declared June 30, 2009 as “National Sovereignty Day”.
In December 2011, the U.S. military formally declared the end of its operation in Iraq.
“I love my country. It’s not perfect, but the fact is, we are still one of the only countries that goes to other countries to help,” said John D. of the U.S. Army, who was recruited the day after September 11, 2001. “We may not be the most successful. Sometimes you can do the right thing, or you can do the wrong thing, but anything is better than not doing anything at all.”