The Aug. 4, 2006, death of Army Staff Sgt. Clint Storey from a roadside bomb blast in Ramadi, Iraq, shattered his wife. Melissa Storey found some peace knowing her 30-year-old husband, an Enid native, died fighting for a cause in which he believed.
But that cause died when the U.S. government decided to pull out of Iraq before the job was done, she says. Iraq’s recent spiral into chaos only affirms her belief that the withdrawal of U.S. troops rendered the eight-year Iraq War pointless.
“Now all the hard work, all the lives lost, all the blood shed, all the men and women that came back with the injuries that you cannot see along with the ones who came back with injuries you can see, the government just said it was all for nothing,” Storey said.
On Monday, Sunni extremists associated with a renegade al-Qaida group continued their push through northern Iraq closing within 60 miles of Baghdad, the seat of government power. As the capital girded for possible attack by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the U.S. evacuated some embassy personnel and President Barack Obama once again weighed the possible use of American forces in the region. Two years after the last American troops pulled out of the country, and after the deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. military service members, some people with close connections to the war say they are deeply disappointed with Iraq’s progress and question whether it was worth all the sacrifice.
Kelly Holliday, 48, of Broken Arrow, doesn’t believe her son should ever have been in Iraq in the first place. She supported the war when the goal was to find weapons of mass destruction. She felt it was justified. But when the weapons turned out not to exist, she questioned the legitimacy of American troops remaining.
Still, she couldn’t stop Jaron from going to war. He’d wanted to be in the military since a young age. Spc. Jaron Holliday, 21, died Aug. 4, 2007, when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device south of Baghdad. He was the oldest of eight siblings. To Kelly Holliday’s dismay, U.S. troops remained in the country four more years after her son’s death and hundreds more soldiers became casualties.
“I don’t think they had any opportunity to give Iraq any type of freedom at all,” Holliday said of American forces. “I don’t think they ever had an opportunity to do that.”
She hopes government officials don’t make the same mistake again. U.S. troops re-entering Iraq would be a waste of lives and finances, she said.
Retired Army Sgt. Demetrius Wright, 40, of Edmond, is tired of hearing recent news from Iraq. As a senior in journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, he’d rather focus on sports writing. But he’s finding it’s not so easy to ignore the conflict; his classes require him to keep up with foreign affairs.
Wright deployed as a communications officer with the Oklahoma National Guard’s 179th Infantry Regiment from 2008 to 2009 near Balad, Iraq, or as he calls it, “Mortaritaville,” a reference to the constant mortar bombardments during his tour. Earlier this week, ISIS fighters overran Balad. When he left Iraq for Oklahoma, Wright was glad to never go back. He sees no benefit in American forces returning.
“Why keep wasting our troops and our soldiers? It’s their problem,” Wright said. “The United States, we’re everybody’s big brother. They got a problem, they come to us. Well, we got our own problems and needs here in this country.”
Retired Army Sgt. Ryan Ahlgrim, 29, of Oklahoma City, served a year in Baghdad and another in Kirkuk with the 10th Mountain Division, working with the Iraqi army and police.
He admired the courage and passion the Iraqi forces showed for protecting their country and formed close bonds with many of the Iraqi soldiers and policemen with whom he served.
“(The Iraqis) were taking a pretty big chance by signing up,” Ahlgrim said. “It was different for us because our families were a thousand miles away from home, but their families were right there in town. So insurgents would recognize them and go after their families.”
When the United States pulled out of Iraq in 2011, Ahlgrim wasn’t happy with the decision. Leaving that soon didn’t solve anyone’s problems. Iraq still needed help, and he didn’t want to feel like all of his efforts were in vain.
Ahlgrim said he worries for the Iraqis he met. In the face of the recent attacks by ISIS fighters, many Iraqi army troops were reported to have stripped off their uniforms, discarded their weapons and equipment and fled in advance of the approaching enemy.
“It’s not politics over there,” Ahlgrim said. “It’s people. The Iraqis that I met were really grateful that we were there. You don’t hear that often enough. They just wanted to live in a peaceful community. They want to raise and take care of their families.”
Retired Army Spc. Josh Barnett, 27, of Oklahoma City, spent a tour as an infantryman stationed in Baquba, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, during 2008 and 2009. He spent six months as a platoon radioman. The second half of his deployment he served as a team leader. He said the 9/11 attacks compelled him to enlist, but that he lost faith in the war during his service.
Barnett said he believes the United States overstayed its welcome in Iraq and said he would be mortified if American troops redeployed to the country.
“My reaction would be me marching on the state Capitol,” he said. “I would have signs. I would be part of a movement that’s obviously bound to happen.”
Recent events in Iraq don’t surprise retired Marine Jose Moreno, 30, of Fremont, Neb.
Between 2005 and 2008 Moreno did two tours in the volatile area surrounding Fallujah, part of the Sunni triangle west of Baghdad and a stronghold for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Moreno served first as infantryman then as a squad leader. The region has been unstable for hundreds of years, he said. The violence is too overwhelming, he said. Regardless of whether U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq, violence always is going to plague the country.
“With our presence there, it kind of keeps it to a minimum, but it’s just a violent area,” Moreno said.
I don’t think they had any opportunity to give Iraq any type of freedom at all. I don’t think they ever had an opportunity to do that.”
Her son, Spc. Jaron Holliday died Aug. 4, 2007, when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.