August 19, 2010 – The war in Iraq is finally over, with the last of the troops making their way over the border between Iraq and Kuwait early Thursday, making history!
The U.S.-led invasion lasted seven years and five months, and troops are coming home earlier than Obama’s original plan to end combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31.
It was a moment of relief for the troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division as they made their way over the border and one step closer to coming home.
Eighteen-year-old Spc. Luke Dill of Olympia, Wash., was one of the first who came to Iraq as part of the U.S. invasion, and one of the last to leave.
“It’s something I’m going to be proud of for the rest of my life – the fact that I came in on the initial push and now I’m leaving with the last of the combat units,” he said.
He will never forget the nights when the sky was lit up by tracer bullets from every direction over the northern city of Mosul, or the three days of mortar attacks outside the city of Najaf in 2003. The silence following the three-day attack kept him awake at night.
Now waiting for him back home is the “Big Boy” Harley-Davidson he purchased from one of the motorcycle company’s dealerships at a U.S. base in Iraq – which shows how embedded the American presence has become since the invasion of March 20, 2003.
That presence isn’t over as scattered troops still await departure, and some 50,000 will stay another year in a noncombat role. They will carry weapons to defend themselves, KING 5 News reported, and accompany Iraqi troops on missions if asked. Special forces will continue to help Iraqis hunt for terrorists.
As of Wednesday, the Pentagon count of U.S. deaths there was at least 4,415.
The Stryker Brigade, named for the vehicle that delivers troops into and out of battle, and that is based in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, lost 34 troops in Iraq. It was at the forefront of many of the fiercest battles.
The brigade’s leaders volunteered to have half of its 4,000 soldiers depart overland instead of taking the traditional flight out. This allowed the unit to keep 360 Strykers in the country for an extra three weeks. The remainder of the brigade flew out with the last of the troops slated to leave later Thursday.
KING 5 News reported that U.S. commanders say it was the brigade’s idea to drive out, not an order from on high. The intent was to keep additional firepower handy through the “period of angst” that followed Iraq’s inconclusive March 7 election, said brigade chief, Col. John Norris.
It took months of preparation to move the troops and armor across more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) of desert highway through potentially hostile territory.
Fortunately, other than a few camels straying in the road and breakdowns that required some vehicles to be towed, there were no major incidents during their overland journey.
The worst part of the ride inside the Strykers was sitting for hours in a cramped space and the temperatures outside reaching 50 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit).
It was a tight fit with no windows or air conditioning, as it was turned off to save fuel on the long ride out of Kuwait.
Dill acknowledged the men who weren’t there to experience the day with him.
“I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot, to finally see us getting out of here,” he said.
KING 5 News