The United States this week marked 10 years since our nation launched large-scale military operations in Iraq. The war divided Americans as U.S. officials struggled to maintain a consistent and plausible rationale — finding weapons of mass destruction, retaliating for the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, liberating the Iraqi people — for the costly conflict.
We toppled Saddam Hussein, his government and his statues.
But the effort cut us deeply as a nation.
More than a million U.S. military members served in Iraq during the war. More than 4,400 of them lost their lives.
More than $2 trillion went to the decades-worth of operations in Iraq alone, with more spent in tangential efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ten years later, Iraq remains a powder keg, complete with murderous warring factions, the looming threat of a spillover civil war from Syria and a too-close-for-comfort “secret” relationship with Iran. The U.S. officially has ended combat operations, but the pullout isn’t exactly complete. Ten thousand workers remain, for example, at the $730 million U.S. Embassy — the largest in the world — a site included on our nation’s list of places to essentially abandon in the coming years.
It’s easy to look back and say it all was a waste.
But tell that to the families of U.S. Army Sgt. Jacob Butler, Wellsville, and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Chris Wasser, Ottawa, who were killed in Iraq. Tell it to the loved ones of U.S. Army Spc. Michael D. Brown, Williamsburg, who died as a result of his deployment to Iraq.
Not so easy.
Americans can question the legitimacy of the U.S. mission in Iraq. They can challenge claims of success by those who led us to war. But it’s a lot more difficult to deny the sacrifices so many men and women gave in service to their country.
With this week’s somber milestone comes the approach of another anniversary — that of the April 1, 2003, death of the first Kansan killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Jacob Butler.
After 10 years, Butler’s family hasn’t forgotten the young soldier’s commitment and service. They are planning an April 1 gathering in Overbrook to honor his life, bravery and service. A trip to the Wellsville cemetery where Butler is buried also is planned.
Those killed in Iraq, of course, aren’t the only ones who deserve special thanks and salute this week. Many more returned home from service, some battered and traumatized from their experiences. (Army Sgt. Allen Hill, whose family was featured on a 2012 episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” became a local symbol of those impacted by the war.) Other Franklin County residents followed their service in Iraq with additional military deployments.
With Iraq and its 10-year anniversary now in the nation’s rear-view mirror, we must remember that the cost of the war is the same whether the conflict was right or wrong, justified or not.
The sacrifices of our service members mean no less because they came as a result of an unpopular war.
— Tommy Felts,