Tim McLaughlin was part of the first group of US Marines to enter Iraq in 2003.
His tank was the first to roll into Paradise Square in Baghdad on April 9 that year. On that day, the statue of Iraq's former ruler Saddam Hussein was brought down. The flag that ended up on the statue's head belonged to McLaughlin.
Eleven years later, when McLaughlin reads the news about what is happening in Iraq, he says he feels a mix of emotions.
“I don’t mean that in a bad way," he says. "Life goes on. I have a child on the way. Iraq feels like a different world."
His responsibilities have changed since he was in Iraq. At the same time, McLaughlin says he feels sad.
"I have a lot of friends who didn’t come home from Iraq. I have a lot of friends who came home and aren’t the same," he says.
And then there are the people who live in Iraq.
McLaughlin sent an email to one of his Iraqi friends living in the country. He says finding the right words was tough.
He says he wrote several emails, deleted them and wrote again. It was hard to connect.
“It’s hard because I am an American. He is an Iraqi. Our worlds are very different. They are similar in the sense that I only want the best for my child and he only wants the best for his children,” he adds.
He says he wishes things would be better. As for what should happen in Iraq today, McLaughlin takes a long pause. He wishes there was a way for the Iraqi government to reconcile with all the people in the country.
He also hopes the US government does what is in the national interest. “Which," he says, could "lead into the unintended consequences of making decisions for others.”