All American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year, President Barack Obama announced Friday, bringing an end to one of the longest wars in United States history.
Soldiers with our local National Guard served on the front lines and faced the enemy head-on during two tours of duty in Iraq. Soldiers with F Troop, 2nd Squadron of the 278th Combat Regiment were deployed first in 2004 and then again five years later in 2009.
“It was night and day from the first time we were over there to the second time,” said Sgt. Cody Tate, a Warren County soldier who made both trips to Iraq. “The first time it was like the Wild West. It was pretty chaotic. The second time it flowed a lot better. The Iraqi people were more in control. They were much more independent.
“As a veteran, I know there were a lot of people who poured their heart and soul into serving their country in Iraq and it’s not something people need to think is completely over. There’s still progress to be made even when we’re gone.”
Warren County resident John McCormick also made both trips to Iraq with the 278th. A sergeant, he received a Purple Heart for combat wounds he suffered in 2005 to his head and back when his vehicle rolled over an IED.
“This is a major accomplishment,” said McCormick of U.S. troop withdrawal. “There were people who thought this couldn’t be done. When you mention Iraq, different people think different things. I think it was worthwhile because those people lived under a dictator for so long they didn’t know any other way.”
More than 4,400 American military members have been killed since the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq in March 2003.
While no Warren County soldiers were killed in the Iraq War, three members of the 278th in the same platoon with local troops were killed. They were Shannon Taylor of Smithville, Asbury Hawn of Lebanon, and Gary Reese of Ashland City.
Also killed was Jim Cantrell, a Warren County resident in Iraq as a civilian with Blackwater Security. Cantrell was killed near Baghdad in 2005. WCHS graduate Eric Frazier lost both his legs when his Humvee drove over an IED in October 2006.
Warren County resident Jeremy Brown was killed while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2010.
The U.S. military presence in Iraq stands at just under 40,000 soldiers. All U.S. troops are to exit the country in accordance with a deal struck between the countries in 2008 when George W. Bush was president.
Obama, an opponent of the war from the start, accelerated the end of the conflict when he took office. The second deployment of the 278th, which was supposed to last one year, was cut short by several months when Obama ordered soldiers home earlier than expected in 2010.
“We spent a lot of time training, and we spent a lot of time over in Iraq to help that country move forward,” said Sgt. Tate. “It opened my eyes to all the different things that happen in the world and how other countries operate. It also opened my eyes to how the rest of the world views things.
“Even though all the soldiers are coming home, people shouldn’t forget the sacrifices that have been made,” Tate continued. “It’s been sacrifices from not only American soldiers but also Iraqi citizens who have put so much effort into rebuilding their country.”
Sgt. McCormick said it was rewarding to see the Iraqi people working so much on their own during his second deployment, performing tasks previously done by American soldiers. The father of four with his wife, Carrie, he said the hardest part of serving his country was leaving his family.
“When you leave, you’re holding them in your arms and when you come back they’re running around all over the place,” said McCormick.