The war in Iraq can feel like it’s a world away. But for millions it hits close to home.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our day-to-day lives, it’s hard to pay attention to what’s happening in the world. For more than five years, our country has been at war in the Middle East, but unless you have a friend or family member serving overseas, the reality of the war probably hasn’t truly sunk in.
While you’re busy with homework, watching TV, or hanging out with friends, guys and girls your age are working in desert dust and stifling heat to fulfill their military commitments. In fact, 36 percent of all U.S. troops are under 25, and of the more than 32,777 men and women killed or wounded while serving in the Iraq War so far, more than half were under 25.
During the Vietnam War in the late ’60s and early ’70s, antiwar demonstrations provoked the nation and transformed youth culture. Back then, every guy 25 and under could be drafted, so almost every young person knew someone whose life had been changed by the war. This war feels more removed.
Culture experts theorize that’s partly because there is no draft (everyone who is in Iraq chose to serve) and partly because the TV coverage we see today is more about politicians fighting over war policy than images of dead and wounded soldiers like your parents saw during Vietnam.
“When many Americans see the news they think, Boy, that’s awful. But it doesn’t hit home,” says media expert Eric Schmeltzer. But it should hit home for everybody, not just those whose loved ones are serving, We found three people deeply affected by this war to tell their stories so you can better understand what it’s like.
20, Thomson, Georgia
Her husband, Freddy, was deployed to Iraq when their daughter, Adriana, was two and a half months old.
“I met Freddy when I was 18. I was working at an on-base dry cleaner at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and I always said, ‘I work with Marines but I don’t date them.’ The idea of being with someone who might go off to war was unthinkable. When military wives came in with little kids and talked about how their husbands were getting deployed, I thought I could never do that.
But that changed when a friend introduced me to Freddy, a Marine from Thomson, Georgia. He was outgoing, funny, and charming. I fell for him instantly.
Freddy asked me out and for our first date we had dinner and went bowling. From that point on, we were a couple. Six months into our relationship, I found out I was pregnant and we got married the following month.
Things happened quickly, but we knew that we were meant to be together. When I met him, Freddy had been a Marine for five years and had already served in Iraq twice. We knew from the beginning he’d be deployed again for 12 months starting in early January 2007.
Our little girl, Adriana, was born in October 2006. After Freddy left I was really stressed out, so taking Freddy’s advice, Adriana and I moved in with his parents, who totally welcomed us in.
Being apart from Freddy was hard. I worried about him being in a war zone, but he works in communications, which means he stays on base. At least that’s safer than being on the front lines.
Still, right after he left, President Bush came on TV saying they were going to extend everybody’s terms. I felt numb. I just stared at the TV saying: ‘Please don’t do this to us.’
Taking care of Adriana alone without knowing when Freddy was coming back was overwhelming. She doesn’t like being with anyone but me, so even though they tried, Freddy’s parents couldn’t help much.
Some days, if she was sick, she’d be screaming while I’d be trying to cook and clean up after her. Some nights, once I’d finally get Adriana to bed, I’d just cry. I didn’t have a moment for myself, but even if I did, where was I going to go? I was in a town where I didn’t know anyone. I felt so alone.
Luckily, Freddy only had to stay a month longer than expected. But I was still sad that he was missing Adriana’s milestones, like her first tooth and first word: Mama. Fortunately, he was on a 15-day leave in September, so he was here when she took her first steps.
I’m now pregnant with our second child. I’m due in June, and Freddy finally came home at the end of this past January. It was a huge relief. He also worked out a deal so he can be home for our new baby’s first year.
I don’t like the idea of us being torn apart again, but Freddy loves his work, and he may reenlist. I can’t take that away from him.
Unlike me, Freddy supports the war. I agree that our country has to finish what we started, but I don’t think we should have so many troops still there. Freddy and I try not to discuss it much.
Soon, we’ll move into our own home, which we paid for with money Freddy’s earned and what I saved by living with his parents. It’s hard to know that he may have to leave for Iraq again, but for now, we’re just trying to enjoy the time we have together as a family.”
21, Fort Worth, Texas
When he joined the Army in December 2004, he never imagined he’d find, then lose, the love of his life in Iraq.
“Ashly Moyer was beautiful%97a firecracker with a hell of a lot of spirit. She was a soldier in my unit but we didn’t get to know each other until we were both deployed to Iraq in June 2006, when I was 19 and she was 21.
Though we were from different platoons of soldiers, we got placed a couple of doors down from each other in the soldier barracks. We started talking and connected immediately over our similar backgrounds.
We’re not allowed in the rooms of soldiers of the opposite sex at night but Ashly and I were falling for each other so hard, we ignored the rules. I’d sneak into her room and we’d stay up for hours talking about our hopes, dreams, fears, and regrets.
We saw each other daily, but it wasn’t like we could go on normal dates. We’d watch a movie on a laptop together, or spend an evening in the motor pool working on our Humvee trucks.
To us, and pretty much everyone else there, Baghdad seemed like the worst place in the world. But the fact that we found each other and fell in love there made us cherish our relationship more.
While we were hanging out one night in her room, I found the courage to tell her, ‘I’m going to marry you one day.’
‘I’m a four and a half!’ she replied, referring to her ring size. Planning for our future got us through the long days. But then, on March 3, 2007, all our plans were shattered.
Ashly was a military police driver, and her mission that day was to drive the Humvee she called ‘my baby’ to checkpoints on a route that was known for being hit by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that insurgents bury there.
The first vehicle in her convoy passed by fine, but when Ashly’s truck drove over, an lED exploded.
At the time I was about 10 miles away, just coming off an eight-hour mission. My squad heard a loud explosion and saw lots of black smoke rising from the ground. I heard my squad leader yell, ‘We’re going back out. It was one of us!’
I knew Ashly was in the area, but thought to myself, What’s the chance of it being her? We arrived on the scene within minutes to help.
As we rolled up, there was a lot of gunfire, from enemy combatants and from us. It was hard to see anything with all the smoke, but I could make out that all that was left of the truck was the back hatch.
We’d heard that three people were dead, and my heart stopped as it suddenly became real that this truck could be Ashly’s.
The next thing I knew, I saw a buddy walking over with tears in his eyes. I knew then that it was her. But I had to hear him say it. I asked him who it was and he just shook his head. I yelled at him to answer me. I didn’t hear the words, but I read his lips: ‘It’s your girl.’
I felt my chest tighten and I couldn’t breathe, I tried to make it over to what was left of her truck, but my squad leader grabbed me. Ammunition in the destroyed truck had started to explode in the heat so no one was allowed to get close.
All we could do was wait for the fire to burn out. That’s when I broke down. I sat in my truck for seven hours watching Ashly’s truck burn, gripping my steering wheel and crying.
I never took my eyes off of it except to pull out my cell phone and text Ashly, begging her to please answer me, to please tell me that she was okay, to please just come back. But I knew she was gone.
It was dark by the time the fire went out. My team leader, squad leader, and I walked up to what was left of the truck. I wanted to at least find the ring I’d given her, to keep as a memento of her. But that was gone, too.
The Army extended my deployment in Iraq for three more months. It finally ended in September and I’m now stationed in Germany. My term ends in December 2009, and I have mixed feelings about reenlisting.
It’s been a year since Ashly’s death, and I still can’t believe she’s gone. Our love was so strong.
I don’t believe she died in vain. We were out there making a difference. I know she died for a reason.
23, Santa Barbara, California
When serving in Iraq, Erika began having doubts about the war. Now that she’s home, she’s speaking out against it.
“I joined the Army because I wasn’t sure what else to do. My family had moved around a lot and I had to switch schools frequently, so my grades were shaky and college applications seemed overwhelming. I didn’t have many expectations about the military, I just wanted to be on my own and support myself.
So one day my senior year, I visited recruiters from all four military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, I was curious what they’d have to offer, and the recruiters talked it up, telling me l could travel and would get money for college. To be honest I chose the Army just because their recruiter was the nicest.
In March 2002, when I was 17 years old, I signed on. The U.S. hadn’t yet gone to war, so I didn’t think I’d ever be in danger. But my mom, who’d served in the Army in the Vietnam era, begged me not to join. She was sure something major was about to happen.
I was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as my duty station. And three years later, in October 2005, I was deployed to Iraq to serve in the war for one year. My job in Baghdad was automated logistical specialist. I worked in a warehouse managing supplies like bolts, batteries, and tires.
It was the longest year of my life. I’d wake up dreading every day, praying time would go by quicker, but it never did. Every morning, the temperature would climb to 90 degrees by 7:30 a.m., then drop to 34 degrees at night. And the dust was unbearable.
Everyone called our area Mortar Alley because we’d get hit with homemade grenades by enemy insurgents three or four times a week. They usually didn’t do any harm because the noise they make when they’re shot off triggers an alarm, and we’d run to a bunker for safety.
But I had a close call on Thanksgiving Day, 2005, about a month after I got to Iraq.
The officers were serving Thanksgiving lunch to the soldiers in the dining hall, but those of us working in the warehouse had to switch off taking meal breaks and get our meals to go.
I was walking back to the warehouse with my plate when I ran into Tim, a soldier I knew. We were standing there talking when we heard a shrill whistling sound in the sky, I looked up and saw a missile scream over our heads, barreling toward the side of the warehouse.
I’d been trained to get down immediately, but instead, I just froze. Tim dragged me to the ground as the missile struck the warehouse, where I would have been if I hadn’t stopped to talk.
Glass and shrapnel flew everywhere. Tears welled up in my eyes. I was scared to death. Luckily, no one was in that area of the warehouse when it was hit.
The mortars and missiles were bad, but what was worse for me was slowly realizing that I was there because of a war based on lies.
In Iraq, our only news source was the televised American Forces Network, which shows only positive stories that make it seem like the U.S. is winning. But my mom would send me articles from antiwar groups and newspapers like The New York Times, which had information about massacres of Iraqi people and how much the Iraqis hated us for destroying their country.
I read about how Bush sent soldiers into the Middle East even though there was no proof of weapons of mass destruction, which was how he’d justified the U.S. attacking a country that hadn’t attacked us first.
I didn’t understand what we were doing there, I became convinced that this is an illegal, immoral war, and it felt horrible to be part of something I didn’t beIieve in.
When I got back to the States in October 2006, I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group my mom had told me about. I was still on active duty so I didn’t talk about my antiwar feelings much. I was worried the Army could court-martial me or take away my tuition benefits.
Now that I’m done with my term, I’m open about being against the war, and have even marched in antiwar protests. I want people to know that every day soldiers are dying for nothing.
I will say that the Army did make me grow up faster. Now I’m in college, using the GI Bill money I’d earned for tuition. But if someone I knew was thinking of joining the military, I’d tell them they were making a mistake. If you’re enlisting for college money, look into scholarships instead. If it’s out of patriotism, check the facts, and don’t believe everything you’re told.”