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10 Years Later…

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Then…

In 2003, America began its first initial push into Iraq. I remember I was still in college at the time, taking courses at Kent State University for business. Shortly before September 11, 2001, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. Since I was still 17, my parents had to sign an underage waver giving me permission. I remember getting ready for boot camp at the recruiting center in Ravenna, Ohio. I was lucky enough to have a little more than a year to get ready and prior to June 2001 I left right after high school ended and while others were walking across the graduation deck, I was in Paris Island South Carolina getting screamed at by muscular drill instructors who taught me how to survive in combat, breaking me down and then building me back up the Marine Corps. way. The things that stuck out for me at recruit training were the swim qual and of course the Crucible. A lot of people ask me if boot camp was physically demanding, I would say yes but not as much as it is mentally demanding. Imagine 3 drill instructors waking you up at 3am and telling you to carry all of your shit and your bunks and remake them outside in the sand pit, or being told to throw the contents of your footlocker into the middle of the room and mix them up with everyone else and then go find all of your shit before the DI counts to zero. The crucible was three days of no sleep and obstacles along with a 25 mile hike with full gear. I graduated from boot camp and was assigned to 3rd Btn. 25th Marines as an 0341 (Mortarman).

When 9/11 happened, it was just a matter of time before our unit got its orders to be deployed to Iraq. I was trying to finish up college and got until my last semester when we got the call. Prior to that, I was waiting on the edge of my seat for almost 4 long years until they called me, it was very nerve-wracking to say the least. Some days I wished they would just freaking call me up already. So in January 2005, 3/25 was activated and order to go to Iraq. We spent 3 months at 29 Palms in California and then left in March 2005. After my tour in Iraq, in 2006 I wrote and published a journal style memoir about my time in Iraq called Every Other Four and recorded the events that 3/25 Marines experienced day-to-day.

Some Americans wonder whether going to Iraq was worth it and if we are safer since prior to going to Iraq. In my opinion, I think we are safer from a strategic standpoint in that Iraq harbored terrorists including al-Qaeda and mainly the Mujahideen (Arabic: مجاهد‎ muǧāhid, nominative plural مجاهدون muǧāhidūn, oblique plural مجاهدين muǧāhidīn “strugglers” or “people doing jihad”) network joined by mostly disgruntled Bath party members and other radical Muslims. A recent poll was conducted and found that 58% of Americans think that America is now safer having gone into Iraq in 2003 10 years later. Personally, I feel that our units efforts had made a significant difference to our lives and to life in the Middle East. Most significantly, 3/25:

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Map of Iraq

•3/25 secured Syrian Border

• Confirmed Enemy Kills: 125

• Detained and Captured: 39+

• Seized numerous weapons caches containing, IEDs, machine guns, rockets, mortars and various other explosive devices

•Trained Iraqi Army to secure democracy in the region

•Promoted peace and stability in civilian areas

46 Marines and 2 Navy were killed

Now…

It’s been about eight years since our unit got back from Iraq. I have been hearing stories about vets having trouble adjusting to life after their tours like Marine Corps Corporal Jason King (10 Years Later – Marine Corps Corporal Jason King) and Marine Seargent Litz. Cpl. King came back from Iraq, lost his job, house, wife, kid, and basically everything he had before the war. I also had some trouble adjusting and I am currently attending bi-weekly support group meetings called Warriors Journey Home and a Wednesday group at the VA in Akron, Ohio. Some of the problems I had were not being able to stop thinking of what happened while we were there and still even eight years later there are still little things that I notice, like being on guard, black and white thinking, being too passive and blindly following orders. Still, things are better than when I first returned in 2005, I remember driving without my headlines, snapping at people for no reason, irritability, trying to sleep more than 4 hours at a time, feeling numb and isolated. Not that I don’t feel some of this now, but I can say things are getting better just because I have learned how to cope with them. I am grateful to all who still remember our sacrifices in Iraq, to my family and wife Angela Wojtecki and for my Vet brothers for helping me through.

If you are feeling some of these things and are having some trouble adjusting you are not alone. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is common among many combat vets. In fact, one in five Veterans that came back from Iraq have it.  It’s been on my back for several years now, just keep moving forward and remember to take things one day at a time, do rely too much on self (there are people who want to help you), and talk about things with people you care about, they will understand.

-Cpl. Wojo

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