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The U.S. this week closed a chapter in its War on Terror, officially ending its mission in Iraq after nearly nine years of combat.
The pullout of U.S. troops from the embattled country drew mixed opinions among Hardin County veterans, some of whom have been directly affected by the conflict.
Ronnie Thompson Jr., an Elizabethtown resident who was injured in late 2004 when an improvised explosive device struck his Humvee, had his military career end after the roadside bomb put him on a challenging road to rehabilitation. Thompson was unconscious for months after the explosion.
On Thursday, Thompson said he feels the close of the Iraq War is long overdue and it is time to trust that the Iraqi government can rise up and take care of its own without falling prey to insurgent forces.
According to a report published this week by The Associated Press, the war left around 4,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqi dead. Another 32,000 Americans were wounded and more than $800 billion was expended on the war effort, according to the report. Among those killed were Hardin Countians.
“We put way too much money into it,” Thompson said, adding the financial cost does not count the lives of those lost or wounded in the process.
Thompson also was critical of the country’s decision to keep troop levels so high once Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled and the majority of his army dismantled.
From that point, Thompson argued, the battle was against “pockets of insurgents” that did not require a full-scale military effort to counter.
He described soldiers as “moving targets.”
“We were pretty much like a shooting gallery for insurgents,” he said of his time there.
Thompson said the U.S. also must be mindful of war fatigue among Americans in its continuing role in Afghanistan.
Protracted war efforts, he said, can lead to waning support and can directly affect the will to press forward.
“You’ve got to have will to fight,” he said.
State Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, deployed to Iraq with the Air National Guard and said America will have a presence in Iraq to some extent, regardless if the official war effort has ended. Moore’s assertion was supported this week by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who promised the U.S. would retain a strong diplomatic presence in Iraq, continue to build lasting relationships in the country and maintain military forces in the region.
Moore said in hindsight it is easy to criticize the timing of the war or the reasons for it, but every president in the past 15 years, regardless of party affiliation, believed at the time Saddam Hussein was either harboring weapons of mass destruction or attempting to put his hands on them. Moore believes the U.S. was responding to a perceived threat.
Moore also acknowledged the tremendous angst that has risen from the war and the toll it has placed on life and limb, but said the support back home and the willingness of the nation to embrace its war heroes has made him proud because veterans have not always enjoyed such recognition.
“Regardless of policy or politics, they served with honor and integrity,” he said of the troops.
Now, he said, he hopes some calm can continue in the region.
Dave Jarrett, a Disabled American Veterans service officer and Vietnam veteran, said the end of the Iraq War reminds him of the way the U.S. left Vietnam. He expressed worry the nation’s calculated approach to leaving may open up areas for instability to creep back in.
If you announce when you’re leaving to the world, Jarrett said, the enemy can simply bide its time until you are gone and then attempt to reassert its authority.
“They’re just going to wait,” he said.
Jonathan Carl, a Hodgenville resident and Iraq War veteran, said he is thankful for the end of the war and grateful for the sacrifices of friends who had their health impaired or lost their lives fighting for freedom.
He also expressed hope for the Iraqi people. Most are normal people trying to take care of their families, he added.
Carl also said he prays the decisions made by the nation’s leaders concerning the war have been the right ones in terms of timing and strategy and will not cause negative repercussions.
“History will tell us,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.