Updated 03/19/2013 08:03 PM
Soldiers look back at 10th anniversary of Iraq war
Everything from relationships with battle buddies to the Iraqi people to those who didn't come back home with them. On this 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Fort Drum soldiers say they will never forget. Our Brian Dwyer talked with two who were in Iraq the very day the President made the announcement.
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FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- "We were actually sitting on the border, about maybe 300 meters off the berm, waiting for the word to go," Staff Sergeant Russell Coopers though back.
On March 19th, 2003, they got it.
"At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger," then President George Bush told the world.
"I remember the first thought was we had to get ready," Sergeant First Class Steven Oesch said. "We had to think about what we needed to prepare. We were all ready to go, but the reality hits you when you hear this is going to happen."
"It means a lot to me, the teamwork, looking back on the teamwork and between the guys and the way we actually operated as a unit and made it forward," SSG Cooper said.
Both Staff Sergeant Russell Cooper and Sergeant First Class Steven Oesch were in Kuwait on March 19th, 2003. But before the calendar turned to the 20th, they were in Iraq.
"Our Brigade Commander said when you roll over that berm, you're going to see nothing but a smoking hole, just keep rolling. I couldn't believe how accurate that statement was. I just remember everything was burning and we just kept moving forward," SFC Oesch said.
U.S. troops taking Baghdad a short time later and eventually capturing Saddam Hussein. The iconic images of his statue coming down are burned into many heads, even now 10 years later, especially Oesch's. He was there when it happened.
"It really symbolized the fall of Iraq. We were still in the process of establishing everything. There was still fighting going on at the time. But when that statue came down and everybody saw that, the world knew that Iraq had fallen," SFC Oesch said.
"It was pretty cool to watch the reaction of the Iraqi people. It was kind of that sense they were really free of a tyrant," SSG Cooper remembered about the video of it he had seen.
Nothing of which would have happened without the efforts of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division. The post went through 11 brigades and one headquarters deploying. That's just less than 50,000 soldiers. Of those, 122 never came back.
"Most important is don't forget them," SSG Cooper said. "Every one of us who knew them brought a piece of them back with us. They'll never be forgotten and never be lost."
While there is still a much smaller U.S. presence in Iraq, Fort Drum currently doesn't have any combat soldiers there.