A Marine looks back 20 years after US invasion of Iraq
By Susana Samhan
Washington, Mar 14 (EFE).- Tension, fear of the unknown and the people of a remote country who welcomed them … Nothing forecast that Iraq would become a hell for US Marine Jeremy Williams and the rest of his fellow soldiers who first set foot in the Middle Eastern country on March 20, 2003.
“We didn’t know … (that) it was going to become such a hard part of our military experience,” the veteran recalled in remarks to EFE at the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq at the monument to fallen Marines at Arlington National Cemetary on the outskirts of Washington DC.
On his 21st birthday, the California native who was raised in Texas crossed into Iraq from Kuwait with the I Marine Expeditionary Force.
First, they headed north to an area south of Nasiriyah, a majority-Shiite city in southern Dhi Qar province and a strategic location because through it run highways connecting Kuwait with Baghdad and the holy cities (for the Shiites) of Najaf and Karbala.
Their mission: protect the area and their fellow Marines.
The job of his unit was to safeguard the US position in the desert, Williams said. “We didn’t know where we were,” but they were providing support for the main combat that was under way inside Nasiriyah and they were told “This is your position, defend it,” he added.
If there was something that surprised him, it was how welcoming the Iraqis were at first. When the fighting began south of Naririyah, the first thing they saw was how many Iraqi deserters approached them waiving white flags. Later, however, they would be dealing with a ferocious insurgency.
Williams and his fellow Marines went into action with equipment designed to protect them against a chemical attack – gas masks and protective suits. The George W. Bush administration had decided to intervene in Iraq using the pretext that Saddam Hussein’s regime was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.
Those weapons were originally reported due to “bad intelligence,” and of course none were ever found, Williams said, admitting that it made him laugh when he learned of the mistake, or deception.
He was a soldier, a rifleman, who was doing his job and obeying orders, although “in the background” he felt that something was going wrong.
He had been married for just a year and his son was three weeks old when he left his home in 2003 to be shipped to the other side of the world to fight – and perhaps die.
It was “probably the hardest thing” he had ever done, aside from being a father, Williams said. The stress of hearing about a possible gas attack or other kind of attack and having to put on their gas masks and other protective equipment in temperatures of 51-54 C (124-129 F) was tough, he said.
At that time, Williams felt that it was going to be a long deployment, saying that it was “scary and frustrating,” but the worst thing was not to know what was going to happen.
The current head of National Security and Public Relations for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization did three tours in Iraq.
After his first deployment from March to July 2003, Williams returned home, and when his first child was beginning to crawl he returned in August 2004 to Fallujah, the bastion of Sunni resistance, where the US launched a military campaign that took the lives of more than 1,000 civilians and 70 US soldiers.
In Fallujah, he patrolled the streets and provided security for US installations. In this phase, he and his fellow soldiers got to see the enemy up close. That was the start of the insurgency and they were attacked on a daily basis with mortars and rockets.
Even so, it was not until 2005, on his third deployment at another enemy strongpoint, Ramadi, where Al Qaeda had just been regrouping, that he realized that the Iraqis didn’t want the US there.
It was after a shootout in central Ramadi that he asked himself, if the US was in Iraq to help the people, why were there so many who were fighting against him and his fellow soldiers?
One day in Ramadi, a bomb exploded when his convoy was driving by and he received serious head injuries. He was evacuated to the US and discharged from the military.