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Veterans Watch Their Sacrifice Go Up in Flames as Terror Group Takes Iraq

Iraq was my war. I joined the U.S. Army Reserves in 1998, because my last name is “Patton” and I needed help paying for college. Rather than go to active duty, I chose to serve in a Reserve Military Postal Unit because they went to cool places like Japan and Panama in the summer. However, in the summer of 2004 I discovered that the last place I went with the military would be Iraq.

I was not combat arms, so I had a much different view of the Iraqi people – technically the Kurds living in Kirkuk – than those who had to knock down doors and face the uncertainty of IED blasts every single day. We would interact with the locals, deliver school supplies and toys to the kids, and laugh about American pop culture with the adults. I, at least, tried to leave Iraq a better place than I found it.

Despite the unpopularity of that war, most of those I have met who served their shared my sentiment. For those who faced them every day, the enemy was not the civilians who lived in this once-proud, now-sad country. Those who trained the soldiers in the new army, tried to instill in them the same level of discipline and sense of duty that they would their own troops. It was partly because that’s just how one trains a soldier and partly because we hoped and prayed they could hold the line when we finally left. Because once that happened, none of us ever planned to set foot in the sandbox again.

The sectarian tensions have been ramping up in Iraq since last December, but have exploded as the government faced serious losses to the militant terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has since claimed control of a significant portion of the Sunni Triangle, the territory taken some of the most oil-rich in the nation. They also raided banks and bases in Mosul and Tikrit, and are now considered the single richest terrorist group on the planet.

In a bit of insult to injury, it has also been reported that out-of-uniform Revolutionary Guard and “tribal fighters” from Iran are bolstering the governments’ forces against the still-advancing terrorists. It seems as if, once again, an invading army is marching in to Baghdad.

In a statement today, President Obama not only promised that U.S. ground forces would not get involved, but also responded to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s request for airstrikes and drone intelligence by demanding that – at least in terms of Sunni/Shiite conflict – “to solve their own problems.”

For those of us who served over there, this creates mixed feelings. If the new government falls only to be replaced by a group who makes the Taliban look like the Lollipop Guild, it will be hard to convince ourselves that the years, blood, and treasure spent there were wasted in the worst possible way. On the other hand, none of us want to go back or see a new generation of soldiers going through the only kind of hell you sometimes miss when you get back home.

President Obama is right about one thing: It’s all up to the people of Iraq now.


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About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.