Top 50 Stories: 2000s -- Idahoans in war

rphillips@idahostatesman.comJuly 4, 2014 

Sgt. Joshua Corr stands guard during a night raid of insurgents’ residence in Kirkuk, Iraq, in March 2004.

STATESMAN FILE

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When we left the security of the Kirkuk Regional Air Base, I was hyper alert and nearly freaking out because I was sure all hell was going to break loose on the streets of Iraq.

While my stomach's butterflies danced, the Humvee driver and soldier riding shotgun discussed what they had just picked up for dinner for the troops waiting at the patrol base in the heart of Kirkuk.

I was embedded with the 116th Combat Brigade Team in the spring of 2005, and I will never forget those initial feelings in a war zone.

All hell did not break loose, but I did loosen up and learned what it's like to be "boots on the ground" in Iraq with the Idaho National Guard.

Former Idaho Statesman photographer Kim O'Connor (then Kim Hughes) and I spent a month there and lived, traveled and patrolled alongside the guardsmen and women.

We walked Kirkuk's marketplaces, spent a night perched on a rooftop with a sniper team, watched Special Forces teams raid houses for insurgents while Idaho soldiers stood guard and rode in open trucks wondering if this is the day we would cross paths with an IED.

O'Connor and I were fortunate it didn't happen to us, but there were a few close calls. Some soldiers in the 116th did not share our good luck.

We also spent lots of down time with soldiers and saw how they dealt with equal parts of excitement, fatigue, boredom and homesickness.

There were plenty of surreal moments. I laughed when I watched soldiers embroiled in an intense game of "Call of Duty" push pause and go out on real patrols. Seeing them use a video game about war for entertainment in the middle of a war zone was too rich.

I also glimpsed what life was like for the Iraqi people. I learned that many, if not most, are just trying to survive, live their lives and raise their children to the best of their ability in a very difficult and dangerous place.

But most importantly, we had the honor of reporting to the families back home what their Idaho sons, daughters, spouses, relatives and neighbors were doing in a far-off land.

We tried to answer questions the families might have so when a weary soldier called home he didn't have to constantly explain what daily life was like in Iraq.

We aimed to show what they were trying to accomplish, and whether they were making any progress.

It was exciting, occasionally grueling, sometimes frightening, but never boring, and definitely the most rewarding assignment of my 21-year journalism career.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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