Ohio soldiers back from Iraq, or still serving, reflect on the war on terror as it turns five years old.
Among some of the first troops on the ground in Iraq, Jacob Fitch remembers the fear of falling bombs. Going a month without changing his uniform or boots. Being saluted by those friendly to his country’s cause. And being stalked by those seeking to destroy it.
Five years later, as the Iraq War still rages, Fitch, 26, of Tuscarawas Township, remembers returning home a changed man.
Running into the waiting arms of family and friends, he said, was actually harder than going to war. Fitch admits he didn’t know what to expect.
“Over there, when you have to do the things you do in battle it makes you sick,” Fitch said. “You get a high off it, but afterward it’s a big downer. ... I was scared to come home because of the stories of Vietnam.”
Pam Fitch called her son’s stint in Iraq the worst six months of her life. She would sit and stare at her front door each day, waiting to hear a knock.
“I would walk around like a zombie,” she said. “It was the first war on television so I would stay glued to CNN all day long, and people would ask, ‘How could I watch?’ And I would say, ‘How could I not? That’s my son.’”
The war, she said, should have been settled a long time ago. She wishes it was over for parents with loved ones still in harm’s way.
“I think it’s a shame there have been a lot of lives lost that shouldn’t have been – Iraqis and Americans and everyone,” she said.
Fitch, a specialist in the U.S. Marine Corps., received orders to go to Iraq while stationed in Camp Pendleton, Calif.
After arriving in Kuwait, Fitch admits he was struck by the fear of the unknown. There were times when bombs rained down every five seconds, he said.
“We had to go through schooling about chemicals,” he said. “It was the fear of the unknown and what was going to happen.”
Over the years, however, Fitch said his perspective on the war has changed.
“I think a lot of my family thinks it’s just another Vietnam,” Fitch said. “Personally, no one knows the true objective of the war. I believe it’s another political war ... it doesn’t seem like we’re learning from our history.”
The journey toward healing for Fitch has been a long one. Pam said he still has nightmares and flashbacks, although they are decreasing in intensity.
“It was a life-changing experience. I’ll never be the same no matter what,” he said. “I had the same problems as other soldiers such loving others and finding emotions. I was filled with anger.”
Mark Lambert’s son, Justin, spent 10 months in Iraq in 2006 as a member of the Marines.
Currently, Justin Lambert, a Washington High School graduate, is stationed in Alaska and could be redeployed to Iraq next fall, according to Mark Lambert.
“I wish it would end,” he said of the war. “In reality, we cannot bring the U.S. soldiers back home. We’re already established over there.”
The family endured Justin’s deployment, Mark Lambert said, the only way they could: One day at a time.
“We just trusted in family and friends,” said Mark Lambert, who served eight years in the Army. “We had to accept that this was a reality when he enlisted. He had opportunities to go to school. He had made up his mind he wanted to go into the military.”
Seven months into his tour of duty, Justin Lambert was wounded by shrapnel and awarded a Purple Heart. Fortunately, the injuries were not serious.
“It was like a ‘Forrest Gump’ type thing,” he said. “It was like a rattlesnake came up and bit him.”
The entire experience has served to make the family stronger, Mark Lambert said, adding those with sons and daughters in the military must throw their support behind them.
“They are over there by assignment and not by choice,” he said.
Ruth Pastore, of Louisville, prays daily for her son-in-law, Shawn Kingston, who has served five tours of duty in Iraq as a member of the Green Berets.
“I pray every day for his safety,” the Louisville resident said. “That’s the best we can do I feel because God is in control.”
But Kingston also bears some of the emotional scars of war.
“He said it did bother him at one point, when he saw all the Iraqi kids injured,” Pastore said.
Kingston, who lives in Colorado Springs with Pastore’s daughter, Dana, believes the military is accomplishing “a lot of good” in Iraq, according to Pastore.
“He’s tired of the negative television coverage,” Pastore said. “He talks about how the kids come up and say ‘thank you.’ They have done good. We’re just not hearing it.”