A Reflective Look at the War in Iraq
By Don Wanlass - Dec 29, 2011 PST
BELL — The winding down of the war in Iraq this month caused local resident Mario Rivas, who is employed with the Huntington Park Public Works Department, to reflect on his experience in that country.
Rivas was a young Marine staff sergeant when he was first deployed to Iraq in the initial invasion of that country in 2003.
Like many of his fellow Marines, Rivas had never been in a war, even though he was in his third enlistment.
“Before the invasion we were told that the speed of the war was going to be forceful and violent,” he recalled. “It seemed [like] all talk until it actually happened and then we all just waited … for the response from the Iraqi Army, which came shortly after the invasion.
“Sadam [Hussein] had trained almost all his scud missiles onto the bases in Kuwait and in Kuwait City where we were stationed. For days, we heard sirens announcing the imminent arrival of scud missiles. We hid underneath bunkers until the all clear [signal came].
“For many of us, this period of in-between bombings was the most anxious and helpless. Knowing that the bunkers would not sustain a direct hit, many of us resigned ourselves to certain death,” he added.
Rivas said those who experienced the war have all been scarred by it in one way or another.
“We have all left something behind,” he said. “We all have different stories of where we were and what we were doing on the exact time of the invasion.”
He recalled Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Arroyave, a fellow Californian, who he met on that first tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
“When we got back from deployment in late 2003, I got a chance to meet his wife and two small children in Camp Pendleton where we were stationed. Early the following year, he called to tell me he was deploying again and that his wife was pregnant. He said that he always wanted a son and that by the time he got back she would give birth.”
Staff Sgt. Arroyave’s wife gave birth to a boy, but Arroyave did not live to see him.
Rivas deployed again in 2004. He was in Iraq to witness the forming of an interim government and to see Iraqis vote for the first time.
Unfortunately, he also witnessed firsthand the cost of war as 15 Marines in his unit were killed on this deployment.
By the time he returned for his third deployment in 2005, Rivas was uncertain if the U.S. had accomplished many of its goals.
“I did not feel like we had accomplished much,” he said. “I saw thousands of our troops going back, rotation after rotation. I still saw much uncertainty and so much carnage. I could not sit or sleep well in knowing that many of my fellow brothers and sisters would not come back.
“I remember hearing politicians talk about troops having to secure and build the Iraqi government and that once this was done we could bring troops home. Much has changed over there now and promises once made have come to fruition.
“The war has now ended because of a promise President Barack Obama and this administration has kept, to bring back all troops. After nearly nine years of combat, our military never lacked courage or bravery and never retreated when called upon.
“Now with the Iraqi government formed and its military ready, it is the right time for us to leave. President Obama says that ‘our mission has been accomplished and we can hold our heads high,’” Rivas said.
“While the majority of the U.S population didn’t get to experience war, I am not bitter or regretful. For me, it’s the knowledge that I served with thousands of brave service members and that we all share a common bond that is priceless.”