Soldiers who brought the U.S. war in Iraq to an end on Sunday when they crossed into Kuwait say the conflict, which kept some of them away for years, took a toll on their family lives.
Having entered Kuwait, the troops will not be returning to Iraq, where 4,474 U.S. soldiers have died in the nearly nine years since the US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.
Slightly fewer than 500 soldiers set out from Contingency Operating Base Adder, now known as Imam Ali Air Base after its transfer to Iraqi control, in groups of military vehicles beginning late on Saturday night, with the last leaving early on Sunday.
They slowly rolled across the border into Kuwait several hours later on Sunday morning, bringing themselves one major step closer to returning to their families in the United States.
“That’s the hardest part, is being away from the family,” said Sergeant Michael Smith, who is married with a two-year-old son, and has served two tours in Iraq.
Smith said the worst day he had while deployed was one in which he was trying to talk to his son online, but couldn’t because of a bad connection.
“He’d been just waiting to talk to me,” Smith said. “He had a tantrum, and then grabbed my picture, went crying on my spot in the bed. That was really hard for me; that’s been the hardest part.
“That’s the only thing I think about, is going home to my family,” said Smith, a 31-year-old soldier in the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB) of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Sergeant Adam Boone, another 31-year-old soldier with the 3rd BSTB, has been deployed three times to Iraq, and has a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.
“I don’t know either one of ‘em, I’ll be honest,” Boone said, adding that he’s looking forward to spending time with them when he is back in the United States.
Staff Sergeant David Salceda, a 32-year-old with the 3rd BSTB, has served four tours in Iraq, and is married with a five-year-old son and a young daughter.
“I spent almost half of my military career out in Iraq and I haven’t seen my son being raised -- I go home a year, come back a year. So, it’s going to be challenging, getting to know my son a lot better, knowing my newborn daughter a lot better. ... It’s going to be like a Christmas present for me.”
“This has been a tough assignment -- every soldier that’s been over here in Iraq, it’s been a tough assignment,” said Sergeant First Class Torres Carr on Saturday before departing Adder.
“You’re doing year-long deployments away from your family. You get two weeks home, you gotta come right back. Some soldiers did 15-month deployments during surge,” said the 33-year-old, referring to the 2007 “surge” of US troops to combat worsening bloodshed.
“It’s been a tough mission, it’s been a real tough mission, but I’m excited to get home,” he said.
Carr, who also spent six months in Kuwait before the launch of the Iraq war, is married and has three daughters, aged 11, 13 and 15.
“They’re used to Daddy being gone, ‘cause I’ve been gone a lot.”