Iraq War Veterans: Recalling Their Roles

VFW members representing all military services answered the nation’s call in 2003 when the Iraq War began. Now, 15 years later, they offer their memories and thoughts on the initial invasion.

This article is featured in the March 2018 issue of VFW magazine and was written by Kari Williams, associate editor, VFW magazine. USCG photo by PA1 Tom Sperduto.

Fifteen years ago this month, U.S. troops launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

VFW magazine spoke with the organization’s members who served during the war’s opening phases. Older and 15 years wiser, they provide some perspective on their service, their shared sacrifices and their feelings about how the war ended.

Harry Hitchings VFW

Harry Hitchings

Service: Marines 
Unit in Iraq: 11th Marines Arty., 1st Marine Div., G-3 Fires section
MOS: Fire support man
Location in Iraq: Babylon, Camp Blue Diamond, outside Hillah
Dates in Iraq: March 21, 2003 to Sept. 22, 2003
VFW Membership: Post 3327 in Alturas, Calif.
“I came to realize both working at the level I did and my exposure over nine months, [the Iraqi people] had been living a pretty hard life under a dictator … They made it on very, very little. They had been told we were a monster, then they found out that we were pretty good compared to what they’d been living under.”
Alan King VFW

Alan King 

Service: Army
Unit in Iraq:
3rd Inf. Div., Mechanized
MOS: Officer, AOC, civil affairs
Location in Iraq: Baghdad 
Dates in Iraq: March 19 to July 4, 2004
VFW Membership: Member at large, Department of Florida
“It was very disappointing when we left and just walked out in 2011, and I thought about what I lost — one soldier in Iraq, I lost two after [we got back] from injuries. It was very difficult to watch all that transpire and to feel like the lives were lost for no cause.”
Michael Dover VFW

Michael Dover 

Service: Army 
Unit in Iraq: 3rd Pltn., D Co., 502nd Inf. Regt., (2nd Bde.) 101st Abn. Div. (Air Assault)
MOS: Section leader
Location in Iraq: Mosul
Dates in Iraq: April 2003 to February 2004
VFW Membership: Post 9488 in Charlotte, N.C.
“I hope — and I just don’t know — but I hope that the good people that I met there in Mosul are still there. I hope that they’re able to have as normal a life as possible, and I know that Mosul had a bad go of it in the last two to three years. But I hope they never forget the efforts that we put forth when we first got there … We needed to go there to get that regime out of there. I do believe it was ill-timed because we had stuff going on in Afghanistan, but I do believe it needed to happen because I saw what that regime did to those people over there.”
Dan Parker VFW

Dan Parker 

Service: Marine Corps
Unit in Iraq: Air Combat Element, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) under Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force — North (Task Force Viking) 
MOS: Intelligence specialist
Location in Iraq: Irbil, Mosul and other various locations in northern Iraq
Dates in Iraq: April to May 2003
VFW Membership: Post 7397 in Lenexa, Kan.
“In 2003, we had a pretty big firefight on Easter Sunday morning. The shooting itself didn’t last that long, then when the sun did come up, because our grunts had killed a lot of Iraqis, the traditional wailing the Arab women do, they started doing that on the southern perimeter of the airfield, and it was just really eerie.”
Korey Wilson VFW

Kory Wilson

Service: Army
Unit in Iraq: 3rd Bde., 3rd Inf. Div., out of Ft. Benning, Ga.
MOS: Forward observer for artillery
Location in Iraq: Baghdad
Dates in Iraq: March 18 to July 2003 
VFW Membership: Post 5290 in Conyers, Ga.
“I was able to write a letter home, and I knew what day last mail call was for outgoing mail. And I wrote my mother a letter that said this could possibly be the last letter I ever write you … My stepdad read that in front of their Sunday school class. And that was the last contact we had until I got home.”
Caroline Pogge VFW

Caroline Pogge 

Service: Army
Unit in Iraq: 411th Civil Affairs Bn., Detach. 3, Attached to 2nd Armored Cav Regt. (March 2003 - Jan. 2004)
MOS: Civil Affairs assistant team leader
Location in Iraq: Baghdad
Dates in Iraq: March 2003 to February 2004
VFW Membership: Post 666 in Beacon, N.Y.
“I’ve been with some of the same people on all of my deployments. Five of us have done all three together. We all liked the first one the best. It surprised me that we liked the invasion; the chaos and the uncertainty and the danger and all other aspects that come with being part of the initial rotation. Most of us said if we had to do it again, we would pick an invasion over a stabilized mission. There are just so many aspects of that which are completely irrational. It was just such a trying, crazy, chaotic, and difficult time, but still you would totally do it over again.”
John Miller VFW

John Miller

Service: Army
Unit in Iraq: 1st Bn., 30th Inf., 3rd Bde., 3rd Inf. Div.
MOS: Bradley Fighting Vehicle system mechanic
Location in Iraq: Baghdad
Dates in Iraq: March 20, 2003 to July 2003
VFW Membership: Post 464 in Oil City, Pa.
“We needed to be there, whether the American public wants to believe it or not… The people over there needed this to happen. The problem is, we left. We shouldn’t have left until they were stable, and they weren’t stable when we left.”
Nicholas Carey VFW

Nicholas Carey 

Service: Army
Unit in Iraq: B Co., 1st Bn., 30th Inf. Regt., 3rd Bde., 3rd Inf. Div.
MOS: Infantryman
Location in Iraq: Baghdad
Dates in Iraq: March 20, 2003 to June 2003
VFW Membership: Post 12009 in Conifer, Colo.
“Our battalion was located at a water treatment facility in Shula. It was just north of Byok in northwest Baghdad. So we helped out. I can remember going to [an] electric company that was out there, and we were helping getting it fixed, and I can remember the guy who ran the facility, he offered me and my squad leader one of his daughters to marry.” 
Phillip Saurer VFW

Phillip Saurer

Service: Marines
Unit in Iraq: 3rd Squadron, 3rd Plt., Echo Co., 2nd Bn., 1st Marines
MOS: Infantryman
Location in Iraq: Umm Qasr to Alcentra, about 30 minutes north of Nasiriyah
Dates in Iraq: March to May 1, 2003
VFW Membership: Post 2669 in Port Orchard, Wash. 
“The biggest challenge we faced — even though we trained – was about a month into it and we were still wearing the same clothes. I think that was kind of the biggest thing. Receiving a fresh pair of socks really changed things, you know? The biggest issue was basically just keeping yourself clean to feel better.”
Mark Decker VFW

Mark Decker 

Service: Marines
Unit in Iraq: Marine Air Control Squadron 2, Air Traffic Control unit 
MOS: Air traffic control navigational aide technician
Location in Iraq: Babylon
Dates in Iraq: March 2003 to July 2003
VFW Membership: Post 9517 in Shiprock, N.M.
“[My perceptions of Iraq] didn’t [change while I was there] because the people were actually very nice. They helped us out. They were very helpful to us. You could tell they had been oppressed a lot. They looked like they had been starving all the time … The actual infrastructure, the roads, the oil wells, seemed like they were up to date … One thing that did surprise me was all the vehicles over there were 1970s American vehicles.”
Carlton Warner VFW

Carlton Warner III

Service: Army 
Unit in Iraq: 494th Trans. Co., 129th Corps Support Bn., 101st Corps Support Grp., 101st Abn. Div. Air Assault
MOS: Motor transport operator
Location in Iraq: Mosul
Dates in Iraq: 2003-2004
VFW Membership: Post 4012 in Northville, Mich.
“[My views on Iraq have] slightly changed. [I watched as] Mosul and everything fell to ISIS. [Now the Iraqis have] recently taken it back. It’s just like — did we do everything? Did we get out of there too soon? Did we have any impact whatsoever when we went over there? Did soldiers die in vain because of that?”