I Came Home From Iraq 10 Years Ago

The experience forever changed me

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

I signed up for West Point right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In that moment, joining the Army and serving seemed like the best thing I could do.

I’d never been to West Point or even talked to anybody in the Army. The only thing I knew were things I’d seen in movies or read in History class.

The four years at West Point were the hardest thing I’d ever done, and I cried with pure joy on graduation day. I spent a year in Army schools after graduation, honing my leadership skills and learning more about military operations.

After graduating West Point, I commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and arrived to Fort Hood, TX, in the spring of 2007. By April 2008, I was heading to Iraq with my unit.

I was assigned as a Platoon Leader and given the responsibility of leading nearly 30 soldiers. I was 23 and many of the soldiers I was leading were no older than 20. A few of the old timers in my platoon were in their mid-20s or approaching 30.

You don’t think too much about death when you’re 23. Life seems endless and full of possibilities. Going to war makes you acutely aware of just how fragile and short life is.

As combat engineers, our job was to go out and look for Improvised Explosive Devices. My platoon and I had the 9 pm to 4 am time slot — every night we’d get our vehicles and equipment ready to head out on mission. I’d gather my soldiers together, give them the mission briefing, and then we’d jump in our up-armored vehicles.

I always got the same uneasy feeling in my stomach every time we headed outside of the protective walls of the base. What was that feeling? There was the weight I felt of being responsible for the lives of my soldiers. The awareness I was 23 and far too young to die. The reality this was no longer a training exercise but real life.

I felt all of these.

Returning home from Iraq made me realize how precious life is and that every day is a gift. It made me thankful for the little things, like waking up each morning with air in my lungs, feeling the ocean breeze on my face, catching a sunrise, going on adventures with my family, the laughter of friends around a dinner table.

I’m grateful for each new day and the perspective I have towards this beautiful life I get to live.

As I sit here typing with the sun on my back and the sound of leaves rustling in the wind, I’m so full of gratitude. Here’s to approaching every day that way.

About the Author:

Andrew lives and work in San Francisco. He’s newly married, a big brother in a family with 8 kids, and an uncle to two amazing nieces. A veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he writes about mental health, relationships, and finances.

Dad. Husband. Army vet. Enjoy running, cycling, cooking, & guitar. Sign up for my monthly humor newsletter: https://eepurl.com/hoZRwH

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