Wisconsin Veterans’ Reactions Mixed On Iraq War’s End

Wisconsin veterans had mixed reactions Friday after President Barack Obama announced all U.S. combat troops will withdraw from Iraq by year’s end.

With the decision, Obama fulfilled a promise he made during the 2008 presidential campaign. The move came after a discussion with Iraq’s prime minister and will leave only enough U.S. Marines behind to guard the American embassy in Baghdad.

“I can say troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays,” Obama said.

The war began in March 2003. More than 4,400 U.S. service members have died in Iraq, including 91 from Wisconsin, according to published reports. Veterans said they were proud of their service.

“You can’t solve all the problems, but I really believe that our country has made a tremendous commitment to bring peace to that country, and we’ve had tremendous sacrifice,” said John Scocos, the state’s Veterans Affairs secretary. “These young men and women, they brought Iraq from the brink of total anarchy to stability.”

Another veteran, Robert Creighton, of Richland Center, said he was concerned that the still-unsettled Iraq would undo much of his fellow veterans’ work.

Creighton’s platoon of National Guardsmen rolled into Baghdad in July 2003, only months after former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime crumbled.

“I think it’s really going to be a horrendous waste of blood, money and personal sacrifice,” Creighton said. “I had police officers in my platoon; I had construction workers, postmen, teachers. It was quite a change of life to go from the lifestyle we enjoy here in the U.S. to a combat area.”

Obama said the U.S. and Iraq will move forward as allies. Iraqi democracy is critical in a fragile Middle East that has seen dictators in Libya and Egypt fall already in 2011.

While the nearly nine-year war has a scheduled end date, Wisconsin veterans face a new challenge, Scocos said.The state is working to help them deal with combat injuries, mental health issues, and trouble finding employment, he said.

“When a young veteran comes back, he needs to be welcomed back into his community and know that we care,” Scocos said. “They served our country; now let’s get them back on the road to being productive citizens.”