Military News

‘Proud of what we did’: 3 Idaho servicemen reflect on Iraq War

This truck load of soldiers from Idaho's 116th Calvary Brigade were all smiles and let out a cheer upon learning that the home state newspaper was there.
This truck load of soldiers from Idaho's 116th Calvary Brigade were all smiles and let out a cheer upon learning that the home state newspaper was there.

Editor’s note: This article was first published on March 19, 2013.

Idaho is a long way from Iraq, but the war had a long and lasting influence on the state.

During 2004-05, about 2,000 Idaho soldiers took part in the largest deployment in the Idaho National Guard's history, which culminated in a year-long deployment to Iraq. Another deployment sent 1,500 Idaho soldiers from the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team to Iraq in late 2010.

Countless other Idahoans served in the military during the Iraq war as active duty, reservists, and as National Guard soldiers and airmen.

Thousands of Idaho families and friends saw their loved ones leave home to serve. Some didn't come home.

At least 68 Idahoans have died in action since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, including three Idaho Guard soldiers who died during the 2004-05 deployment.

We asked two members of the Idaho National Guard and an Idaho Marine to reflect and share their feelings about their experiences in Iraq.

Chris Chesak: 'Would I do it all again?'

Dec. 16 is always a bittersweet day for my wife, Sally, and me. We celebrate the joys of another birthday for our first daughter, but there's always a point where Sally and I step aside for a quiet moment to reflect.

The day of her birth was the same day I landed in Iraq with the 116th Brigade Combat Team, Idaho Army National Guard.

I didn't get to meet Lillian in person until she was 11 months old and already walking and talking, and I missed all those precious moments in her first year.

And while every soldier's deployment is different, mine did some significant, if often unseen, damage to my marriage. There was resentment and anger that built up during my year away, even some distrust, and those tendrils ran so deep that we didn't unearth most of them until three, four or even more years.

We worked through those wounds, through patience and openness, but yet their (now-subtle) scars are still there, permanent testament to my year in Iraq.

Ironically, my deployment also cut short my military career. I joined the Guard to be an officer, to lead combat troops, but the deployment delayed my entry in Officer Candidate School.

The fear of future deployments led to our moving across country to be closer to family, to have more support if I went back.

And, in the end - after the constant specter of deployment caused years of fear and uncertainty in my family - I decided to not accept my commission after finally completing OCS, and got out of the military.

I now work as a senior member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. It's rich and rewarding work; work that takes me literally all around the world.

My family is well ensconced with extended family around to support them, and I am now permanently imbued with the pride of being a veteran, having served my country in a combat arms unit.

I am now more comfortable being American. By "comfortable" I mean I not only don't take our numerous creature comforts for granted, but I feel that I have paid my dues, done my small part, for this nation.

Yet, even knowing how emotionally painful my deployment was on those I love, knowing the danger and the uncertainty of stepping foot in a war zone, knowing all that a soldier sacrifices to serve, would I do it all over again, if it was just up to me?

Yeah - in a heartbeat.

Chris Chesak and his family live in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lillian is now 8 years old.

Brian Humphreys: 'Times of trial and sacrifice'

Being asked questions about my feeling about the two deployments in Iraq from children and adults is a common thing to me.

There are a few things to be said about war as we Army soldiers and Marines have found ourselves in some times of trial and sacrifice for our nation.

The best thing about Iraq was the esprit de corps and friendships that were built with our brothers and sisters in arms and the lives that were saved. And the mission accomplishments made for our senior officers and the sacrifices that our brothers and sisters in arms made for their family and friends and our cause and for the cause of the nation.

With this 10-year anniversary, I always go back to think about the Marines and soldiers who died, and I think about the families and the loss of their loved ones.

I also think about the unit and its well-being for future operations as a whole. I feel honored to speak for our service and honor our fallen forever.

Humphreys lives in Boise. He served in the Idaho National Guard during two deployments to Iraq.

Jason Sellars: 'We paved the way'

"I try to remain positive about it, " Sellars says when asked whether his time in Iraq was worth the effort and toll it took on him and his fellow Marines. "I could hate that place until my dying breath, but I have to let it go."

Sellars served two tours in Fallujah, Iraq, with the Marine Corps, and was medically retired after sustaining a noncombat service-related head injury.

During his first tour, Sellars saw action in some of the fiercest fighting during the battle of Fallujah while keeping roads into the city secure.

"It was pretty hairy there the first time, for sure, " he said. "We paved the way for the rest of them to have a much easier route in and out of the city."

During his tours, Sellars helped maintain security during Iraq's first national election, and helped train Iraqi Army and police.

"I thought those were really positive things we left them, " he said. "I'm proud of what we did."

Sellars lives in Ketchum and works with other disabled veterans through two organizations: Higher Ground, a recreation program for wounded vets; and The Mission Continues, which coordinates veteran's leadership skills to help nonprofit organizations.