GREENSBORO, N.C. — On a day when military families are grieving the loss of seven marines who died during a training exercise in Nevada, many soldiers are still haunted by their experiences overseas in recent years.
It is the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein.
More than 4,500 American troops died during Operation Iraqi freedom.
All troops were withdrawn from Iraq by December 2011, but the struggles of war followed many soldiers home.
Michael Brandon Johnston still remembers exactly where he was ten years ago today.
“I remember sitting there in Kuwait when they told us ‘pack up’. We’re going. And what they meant was pack up, we’re going into Iraq.”
Johnston says he helped execute 30 combat missions in five months in Iraq back in 2003. The sights and sounds of rockets and bombs is still very vivid to him, even ten years later.
“I worried every day about whether I’d come home,” remembered Johnston. “Unfortunately that’s part of it. I worried about my wife and son I had back here. Worried about what they would do without me.”
It was that same son who greeted Johnston at the Greensboro airport with an American flag when he returned home safely from Iraq, he explained while pointing at a picture.
For soldiers like Johnston, this tenth anniversary is really just like any other day.
“The war is not over for the people that went over there,” he pointed out.
Johnston still has night terrors, and REM sleep behavioral disorder.
“You can be watching TV and see a commercial. And that commercial will keep me up all night worrying about death,” Johnston said quietly.
Johnston has also been looking for steady work since 2006. He feels sometimes it would be easier if he didn’t respond to questions that probe whether the applicant is a disabled veteran.
“It seems like when they don’t see me in person, only read about me in paperwork, they see ‘disabled vet’ and I think a lot of them skip over me.”
He’s looking for a job in the field of safety coordinating.
A true marine, Michael says he won’t give up and lives for his family.
But he’ll never forget the Iraq war.
“It might be over. You might not be there anymore. But in your mind and body, it’s still going on.”
List of in honor and thanks of Local Causalities in Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Felipe Barbosa of High Point
- Patrick Barlow of Greensboro
- Leevi Barnard of Mount Airy
- Mark Bibby of Browns Summit
- Bobby Callahan of Jamestown
- Ebe Emolo of Greensboro
- Paul Flynn of Whitsett
- Nicholas Gibbs of Stokesdale
- David Hickman of Greensboro
- David Houck of Winston-Salem
- Elmer Krause of Greensboro
- Alan Lam of Snow Camp
- Kevin Lucas of Greensboro
- Adam Marion of Mount Airy
- Andrew Russoli of Greensboro
- Monta Ruth of Winston-Salem
- Daniel Swaim of Yadkinville