It was August that year when the last U.S. combat troops left Iraq. Now, militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are on a violent offensive, threatening Iraq's fragile democracy. President Barack Obama said Thursday that 300 U.S. Special Operations troops would be sent to Iraq. He also said American combat troops would not fight there again.
What about those who did fight? What do veterans think as they watch new strife in the country where 4,486 U.S. service members died?
Sgt. Jurovcik, 34, was in Balad, Iraq, in February 2009 when his wife, Mary Kay, gave birth to a daughter in Everett. That was his second tour with the Army National Guard. He was also in Iraq in 2004 and 2005.
Although Jurovcik saw, via the Internet, his daughter's birth at Providence Pavilion for Women and Children, I got to see baby Aubree Jean in person before he did.
“There definitely are people who gave up way more than I did. My first squad leader did four tours,” said Jurovcik, now a father of two girls. He works for the Department of Corrections in Monroe.
“I personally lost friends. I lost time in my life. I gave up the birth of my child. It's something that affected me, and will affect me the rest of my life — both positively and negatively,” he said.
His first tour was “a conventional experience of being a soldier in a combat zone,” while his second was spent moving supplies around the country. “I got to see a lot of Iraq,” he said. Overall, he described his time there as “usually peaceful with moments of terror.” He does remember rocket attacks and coming under fire.
He was in Iraq on Jan. 30, 2005, when Iraqis voted in a milestone election. The vote for members of a transitional National Assembly was Iraq's first free election since the 1950s. It was a step toward democracy in a place long ruled by a brutal dictator.
“To see that not work — it's hard to see all of that,” Jurovcik said of new violence and instability in Iraq. “I had hoped to say to my kids someday, ‘I saw that first election.' Someday it will be in the history books,” he said.
He recalled U.S. forces providing security for the vote. “I was in Baghdad. On election day and night, motorized vehicles were not authorized. The whole place shut down,” he said. After the vote, he saw people playing soccer in the streets and holding up inked fingers, proof they had voted.
“It was their democracy,” Jurovcik said. “Some polling stations were a little happier than others. It was polarizing. I remember ripping down anti-America and anti-election fliers.”
Jurovcik saw progress in Iraq from his first tour to his second. For him, the situation became safer. “By the second tour they were giving us the equipment we needed, mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles. They could take a very large bomb to the side,” said Jurovcik, who suffered hearing loss from explosions in Iraq.
“It seemed much more violent and crazier the first time. By the end of my deployment, the country seemed more put together,” he said.
Yet he always knew that Iraq's religious and tribal differences stood as huge obstacles to a peaceful democracy.
“I kind of hoped that they would put that whole thing aside for their own kids, and their own country, and get the whole idea of democracy,” he said. “It only works when you have buy-in from the whole.”
For three years, from 2000 to 2003, Jurovcik was on active duty with an Army Stryker Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord before re-enlisting in the National Guard. His Guard service ended in 2010. He has no regrets about serving in Iraq.
“I have friends from Iraq who continue to be my friends. My job, at least in part, is because of military experience. I wouldn't change any of that for the world,” he said. “Veterans just want to know that people appreciate what they did — not in a political sort of way. They sweated and lived in really bad conditions. And they would do it again.”
He still thinks the U.S. presence in Iraq was positive.
“We obviously had some people who didn't like us being there. But kids in the streets were following us. People were giving us thumbs up. I've always believed, up until this point, that we left that place better than we found it,” he said.
Now, he believes Iraq's democracy is up to people there, not U.S. forces.
“Whether it's Iraq or anything in life, you can't want it for someone else,” Jurovcik said. “They have to just own it.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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