KERNERSVILLE, N.C. — Staff Sgt. Dwayne Kenneth Lewis of Kernersville, a truck driver with the 1452nd Heavy Transportation Company, says he brought the last American soldier out of Iraq in mid-December 2011, completing the U.S. troop withdrawal from the war-torn country, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Lewis, 50, said last week he didn’t know the soldier’s name or what unit the soldier was assigned to at the time. When Lewis’ truck arrived at Camp Arafjan, Kuwait, Army officials took that soldier’s personal gear and the equipment assigned to him and put them in an Army museum at Fort Hood, Texas.
Lewis, a member of the N.C. Army National Guard, served two tours of duty in Iraq. He talked about his experiences in Iraq as the United States celebrates Memorial Day today — a national holiday in which Americans honor the men and women who died serving the country in its military and notes the achievements of its living veterans and its current military personnel.
Lewis said Americans should remember that veterans who served in foreign conflicts need help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other human-service agencies to improve their lives.
“Unfortunately, there are some veterans who are falling through the cracks,” Lewis said in an interview at the American Legion Post 55 on Miller Street.
Lewis said he has post-traumatic stress disorder related to his service in Iraq. He suffered a non-combat related injury on May 12, 2004, and was taken to Camp Delta in Al Kut, Iraq for treatment. He declined to discuss the specific details of his injury.
“I didn’t receive a Purple Heart for it,” Lewis said.
Nationally, the Department of Veteran Affairs is grappling with a furor over allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals – and fraudulent record-keeping to cover up the problems. The department’s inspector general’s office says 26 facilities are being investigated nationwide.
Lewis said he is somewhat satisfied with the medical care he has received from the VA. He has been treated at the VA medical clinic in Winston-Salem and at the VA hospital in Salisbury.
“You tell the VA doctors one thing, and they treat you for they think is the problem,” Lewis said.
Lewis was among nearly 170,000 American troops to serve in Iraq from March 2003 to December 2011. During the war, 4,475 U.S. service personnel were killed, and more than 32,000 were wounded.
A native of Princeton, W.Va., Lewis is a graduate of Princeton High School. He is an environmental construction employee for Piedmont Industrial Services in Winston-Salem. He and his wife, Wendi, have been married for 29 years, and they have a son, Michael Lewis of Kernersville. Dwayne has a 7-month-old grandson, Brandon.
Lewis served for a year from 2004 to 2005 during his first tour of duty in Iraq. He was stationed at Camp Cooke in Taji, Iraq, which is about 18 miles northwest of Baghdad. His unit was assigned to transporting the U.S. 1st Armored Division for its military assignments throughout Iraq. His company traveled about 1.5 million miles throughout that country.
His truck and others in his unit carried M-1 tanks, Lewis said. He drove with Staff Sgt. Tony Williams, a national guardsman from Pilot Mountain.
“I’ve seen a lot of Iraq,” Lewis said. “Iraq is one of the hottest countries in the world.”
Lewis said he couldn’t discuss his unit’s missions in detail as he was following operational security guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Defense.
His unit, like other American military units stationed in Iraq, had to cope with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that Iraqi insurgents placed along the country’s roads. His company suffered a few causalities from these devices, he said, but Lewis didn’t know the exact number.
He remembered that his unit discovered 21 IEDs chained together along a road. The devices were safely detonated, and no one was hurt, Lewis said.
“The enemy had a control button, where they could set them all off at once,” Lewis said.
Outside of Baghdad and its other cities, Iraq is a mostly desert country connected by highways with villages scattered throughout rural areas.
“You might ride 60 to 70 miles and then come up to a small village with houses and businesses,” Lewis said.
In 2004, many Iraqis appreciated the Americans soldiers for their efforts to end rule of dictator Saddam Hussein, Lewis said.
During his second tour of duty in 2011-12, his company was among the last remaining Army units in Iraq, Lewis said. Lewis dispatched trucks on missions at Camp Arafjan in Kuwait. At that time, his unit didn’t suffer any casualties.
He said his work routine led to monotony.
“It sucked,” Lewis said. “I was 7,400 miles away from home. It was hot and stressful, and there wasn’t anything to do.”
He and other soldiers received cards, letters and care packages from Harvest Temple Church day-care center in King, said his wife, Wendi.
Lewis said he was proud of his service in Iraq.
“I signed on the dotted line to serve my country,” he said. “If I had to do it again, I would do it tomorrow.”