One war, many voices

Area residents reflect on five years of combat in Iraq

By the numbers

1,828

Days since the Iraq war began March 19, 2003

33,000

American troops deployed to Iraq in troop surge last year

3,988

U.S. service members killed in Iraq

29,395

U.S. service members injured in Iraq

$416 billion

Cost of Operation

Iraqi Freedom as

of January 2008

Source: Department of Defense

— Wednesday had little to distinguish it from other days in a Northwest Colorado spring.

Still, March 19, 2008 was different.

Five years ago on that date, United States military forces began waging a war in a country halfway across the world. The months and years that followed would oust Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, from power and place America's troops into a region far from home.

There were no speeches, no parades and no protests in Craig to mark the war's fifth anniversary.

Instead, the conflict's effects were measured in other ways: The impact it has left on the parents who wait for children serving abroad, the civilians at home, and those who have served abroad but have since stepped out of uniform.

The long haul

Mel Shockley, Craig American Legion Post No. 62 commander, belongs to the latter of those three groups.

Shockley, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, predicted a quick overthrow followed by a lengthy occupation when the war began in 2003.

So far, his prediction has proved true.

"It's gone like I'd expected it to," he said, adding, "I wish it would go quicker."

He believes U.S. military's work in Iraq is the right course of action - a necessary preventative measure against aggressive forces abroad.

"We want to help keep terrorism out of our country," he said. "We don't want it here - believe me, we don't want it here."

He believes instilling democracy won't be an in-and-out job. And pulling out of Iraq now, he said, isn't an option.

"I hate to think (the U.S.) will be in Iraq for 50 years," he said. "I think we'll be there for years to come."

Duane Laabs hopes that's one prediction that doesn't come true.

Laabs' 19-year-old son, Wacie, a U.S. Marine, was deployed to Iraq last month.

And in the days following Wacie's departure, Duane has jumped at every phone ring, hoping to hear word from his son, he said.

He and his wife, Sonja, haven't heard from him for about a week.

Duane, a former Army serviceman, said he understands the obligation his son and other military members carry.

"I support (those) guys over there," he said. "I was in the service; I know you have to do what you're told to do."

Still, Laabs has questions.

It's not that he doesn't support the troops, he said.

"I just don't understand what (U.S. forces) are doing over there," he said. "We're not the world's police."

Although active service members and their families remain emotionally invested in the conflict and its aftermath, area resident Jennifer Penfold believes some others are losing interest.

"I think not as many people pay attention (to the war as they did) three, four years ago," she said.

Waning attention isn't the only element that's changed, she added.

"I think a lot of people have lost sight of what started the war," she added, in reference to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

"Now it's all about the oil," she said. "It's like everyone got off track."

Yet, Greg Hixson said he believes the level of interest all depends on the individual.

Hixson returned last April from two years of Marine service in Iraq.

And, nearly a year after returning from combat, he remains firm in his support for the war.

"We need this right now," he said. "We're making it safer : (and) giving them their rights."

He doesn't regret his time spent in uniform.

"It made me a man," he said. "I'm not a little boy no more."

He has one piece of advice for people who are considering joining the armed forces.

"I'd say, 'Do it,'" he said.

Distant memories

Five years to the day after the U.S. went to war with Iraq, 11-year-old Carmen Oliva of Meeker was walking along Craig's streets with a friend, taking in the last hours of sunlight.

Oliva was 6 years old when the war began. She doesn't remember the event, she said.

She does have dim memories of the 2001 attacks, however.

"I just felt bad for all the people," killed and injured, she said.

Yet, although the day the war began doesn't stand out in Oliva's memory, she has her opinions.

"I think it's bad because it's killing people - kids, teenagers," she said. "It makes no sense."

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