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US vets mix regret, detachment on Iraq violence

Tuesday - 7/31/2012, 11:29am  ET

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By JULIE WATSON
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Just months after the U.S. military departed, violence in Iraq is increasing. Hundreds of people have died in recent weeks in bombings and drive-by shootings, some claimed by al-Qaida insurgents.

How do the U.S. troops who fought in Iraq for nearly nine years, and in December completed withdrawing from what was supposed to be an emerging democracy, view the turmoil? What do they feel it means to the legacy of their time on the ground? Associated Press reporters who cover military bases and communities in the U.S. asked some of those veterans.

More than 1.5 million Americans served in the Iraq War, and these are just a handful of voices from among those ranks, offering a range of perspectives. Some worry the sacrifices may have been for nothing. Others have put all news of Iraq behind them as they focus on their civilian lives. Some take a long view and say history has yet to decide the war's outcome. Here are their views.

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Former Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Rothlein, from League City, Texas, fought in a unit in Fallujah in 2004, going building to building hunting insurgent snipers in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. He joined the Marines fresh out of high school, emboldened to do something for his country after the 9/11 terror attacks. He left the service six years ago and Iraq's unrest this year leaves him wondering why nearly 4,500 American military members died in the war.

"What did we lose our lives for?" Rothlein asks. "We never really saw justice. Sure we took out Saddam but none of the other lives needed to be lost. Iraq's not free. Afghanistan is not free. They're still basically at the same stage as they were when we went in."

"We knew what could happen as soon as the troops pulled out," said Indianapolis Marine veteran Matthew Ranbarger, 27, who fought alongside Rothlein. "They have been fighting each other for thousands of years, before America was even founded. We did our job. There is only so much we can do. They have to do their part now."

Rothlein says he has been comforted by Vietnam veterans, who he says know what it was like to fight in a controversial war with no clear victory, then return home to hear their fellow citizens debate whether it was all worth it. Don't go there, they tell him. Just accept that it is what it is.

Rothlein and several buddies from his unit have suffered bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder. Adjusting to life in the United States would be easier and maybe the nightmares would be less if he could find a sense of purpose in the suffering his unit endured, he said.

"If they (Iraqis) were starting to flourish in a democratic way, it would be like `Mission accomplished. We went over there and it made a difference. We helped the people of Iraq. We made history.' But we didn't make history. We're going to be in the history books for the bloodiest battle in Iraq. But for what? There was no outcome. We may as well have all gotten killed. There's no finish line."

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Former Marine 1st Sgt. Todd Kennedy served two tours in Iraq but said he no longer closely follows the news there, especially since his fellow troops have left for another conflict or come home.

After a 22-year military career, Kennedy said he is focusing- on life back home. The 41-year-old is working on dual degrees in history and anthropology at San Diego State University.

"For me personally, I have no regrets about the deployments, I have no regrets about the (Iraq) conflict in general," he said. "In any war there are lessons learned. Any war has its skeletons. Any war has its debates, repercussions, its conspiracies. Regardless of whether it was right or wrong to go into there, for me personally, it's not something I did a lot of dwelling on. It's one of those things. The nation called on me, so it was something I had to do."

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Army Capt. Lauren A. Cabral helped train Iraqi women in 2007 for a security force in one of Baghdad's most dangerous districts, which she called a historic milestone for women who volunteered because they thought Iraq was getting better.

Cabral said her fellow soldiers of 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Calvary, witnessed the Adahmiyah district go from a "hopeless state where soldiers and hundreds of local nationals were dying every day, to a hopeful and desired environment. Watching this event unfold for those few days was so inspiring."

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