Still serving in Iraq

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The US Army's 3rd Infantry Division's 1-64 armor was the first into Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although many of the soldiers have since moved on, some stuck around. And they have now seen an invasion, an insurgency, a civil war, a counter insurgency, and now the country's second round of elections. Ben Gilbert talks with soldiers about what could be their last deployment to Iraq.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. The war in Iraq is not over and we as a nation will be dealing with it's aftermath for a long time. In a few minutes we'll hear about the unpredictable costs of caring for injured veterans. First though, there's a sense that the conflict in Iraq is winding down. The conflict is still officially dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now in its eighth year, it's known as Operation Iraqi Freedom Eight or OIF8. The U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division's 164 Armor has been in Iraq from the very beginning. It was the first unit to enter Baghdad in 2003. Some of its members who were there then are back in Iraq now. Reporter Ben Gilbert was embedded with the unit at a small combat outpost south of Mosul. He spoke to some of the soldiers about how they feel about what could be their last deployment to Iraq.

DAVID SHUMATE: My name is David Shumate. I'm from Palm Bay, Florida. And I'm 27 years old. I'm from Alpha Company, 164 Armor. This is my fourth tour in Iraq. I've been in the invasion, OIF3, OIF5 and OIF8. I was active Army right after September 11. Then I deployed to Kuwait. A few months after a lot of training we invaded Iraq. So yeah, we lost two guys and had 18 wounded. But I mean really, once we got into Baghdad, basically it was kind of over. It was, once we got there it all stopped basically. I was kind of amazing. When I was on my first combat, a couple of my first patrols into Baghdad was amazing. I was actually getting flowers from people. Bouquets of flowers from women and they were happy and they were cheering that we were there. A lot has changed from the first few weeks into Baghdad. A couple weeks, couple months after that when the insurgency really started its affect on the people.

MIKE BAILEY: My name is Mike Bailey. I'm from Bell Chase, Louisiana. I'm 27 years old. This is my fourth time to Iraq. The first time I was here with First Marine Division was down in Babel Province. The second round I switched over and came as part of First Marine Regiment in February 2004. We went to just outside of Fallujah in Anbar Province and the word of the day was IED's. They were everywhere. People were more worried about what was going on on the side of the roads then what was going on on the roads. That one definitely started off with a bang with the four Blackwater contractors that got killed two or three weeks after we got there. Not too long after the Blackwater contractors were killed, we moved into the city of Fallujah with several battalions and started basically rooting out the guys that were coming out to fight us, and there was a lot of them. A whole lot of them. It seemed like everybody had an RPG or a gun in Fallujah back then. You couldn't get very far into the city before you started hearing booms and ricochets coming off vehicles and stuff like that. They definitely wanted to fight us hear on.

JAMES AUSBENDER: My name is Staff Sergeant James Ausbender. I'm 32. I live at Fort Stewart with my wife and kids, that's home. I was with the First Battalion, 18th Infantry, 1st ID. We were based in Tikrete, just south of here. We saw the end of all the major combat and the beginning of all the IED's. There was new armor on our vehicles so that made it very interesting times.

BAILEY: This was back before armored Humvees right?

AUSBENDER: Yeah. So we had all the soft skin Humvees with all the Secretary of Defense trying to get us all the armor in a rush. To their credit, nobody knew what the IED threat was until we hit it.

BAILEY: Did you guys hillbilly armor your vehicles?

AUSBENDER: Oh yeah, plywood, sheet metal, sandbags, everything you could think of we put on there. Some of it worked.

SHUMATE: I was 20 when we invaded, now I'm fixing to turn 28. Big chunk of the twenties. Wow, it's from OIF3 to today is night and day. The Iraqi Army is a lot more established. We no longer really can go into the cities without Iraqi escorts. We can't go into an Iraqi house without an Iraqi escort and without a warrant or permission. It's night and day. So basically OIF3 was, if we felt that house was suspicious or something was going bad in that house, we went in the house and we took care of business. And so now, basically the Iraqis have control over everything and we're just here to support them.

BAILEY: You get the feeling that it's the last deployment. We were basically told you guys are going to turn the lights off on the way out the door.

GILBERT: How much time have you spent in Iraq?

BAILEY: Let's see here, three years in my twenties have been spent in Iraq. Parts of me is sick of coming here, being away from a toddler. My daughter was just born, I actually missed her birth the last time I was here, and being away from my wife of eight years, but this is what I signed up to do when I was 18 years old and this is what I know. My wife came into it and we know that its one of those things that's going to happen and we're prepared for it.

AUSBENDER: I'm one of those guys I want to see it all the way through. I'd rather stay here another year or two and get it done right then leave too early. I was us to leave and for this to work out, not for us to leave and the country have issues.

WERMAN: The voices of non-commissioned officers who have been in Iraq off and on since 2003 and 2004. Reporter Ben Gilbert collected their stories while embedded with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 164 Armor unit near Mosul.

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