Reflecting on the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Reflecting on the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

After flying in Baghdad for nearly nine years, the United States Armed Forces Flag is on its way to American soil, along with thousands of service members.

In Eastern Iowa, veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom are reflecting on end of the mission. Many of these vets have completed their military service, but are still fighting under the United States flag.

You may not realize it when a Waterloo fire truck pulls into your neighborhood, but many of the men and women who battle the blaze have already done battle halfway around the world.

"A lot of the things we learn in the Army definitely apply in the Fire Department." said firefighter SGT Sam Hess.

"Every call is different, so you just have to be ready to roll with the punches," SGT Brock Weliver agreed.

They've each served at different points in the nine year war in Iraq, and have vivid memories of their deployment.

"I went over there when the war first started in 2003. We were right behind the first wave. When they had Baghdad surrounded, getting ready to move in, we bypassed them and went up and took Fallujah," recalled SGT Matt Carter, who served two tours in Iraq.

The men said, they sometimes share these memories with each other during downtime at the fire station. But some moments from their service remain difficult to discuss.

"The most significant thing, would be the loss of two of my soldiers," said Captain Garrett Gingrich.

Thursday morning, with the Casing of the Colors, the U.S. officially ended its command in Iraq. In a small ceremony, troops retired the flag which has flown for nearly a decade in the desert.

"No matter where we were, we always had the American flag flying," said Carter.

In Iraq, the US flag was a symbol to the firefighters -- then soldiers -- that they were on friendly ground. Back in Iowa, a flag flies on the back of one of the Waterloo fire trucks, serving as a reminder of what they're still fighting for.

"Regardless of what happens in the world every day, it's a sign of, this is where we started, this is what we stand for," said Hess.

There are still battles ahead, but in the eyes of these firefighters, the end of the war offers much-needed closure.

"I was kind of in limbo there for a long time. People would ask me how I feel about the war, and I wasn't really sure how to answer. Because I didn't want two years of my life to go to waste," said Carter. "And I know it's still too early to tell how it's going to end, but I'm happy it seems to be going in the right direction so the two years weren't in vain."

"All the things that all of us have done over there... our blood, sweat, and tears have gone into something that is now a positive," Gingrich added.

There are roughly 4,000 troops still waiting to return home. In all, approximately 1.5 million U.S. soldiers served in Iraq, including thousands from Iowa. About 4,500 gave their lives, at least 51 of whom were Iowans.

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