End of Iraq War Bittersweet for Soldiers, Vets


For Iraq Veterans, End of War Is Bittersweet

Fournier credits Miltenberger with saving his life.

"He was trying to cut my shirt open to try to get to my chest wound when he was still trying to keep everybody on the truck concentrated and watching for enemies with multiple other injuries to other people who had been wounded, and for him to be able to do that was almost superhuman," Fournier said. "He might not say he is a hero, but he saved my life."

Fournier thinks about that day all the time.

"It has been seven years and there is probably not a day I don't think about it."

He also has mixed feelings about the war, thankful the troops are coming home, but not sure it was all worth it.

"When I first went, I thought we were going for the right reasons, but looking back on it, I don't know what the right reason was. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Were we really over there for the right reasons? I don't know," he said.

Then-CPT. Troy Denomy has vivid memories of April 4, too. They were his soldiers, from Charlie Company, 2-5 Cav, who were ambushed and pinned down while on a routine mission escorting sewage-collecting trucks through the city, and he felt it was his responsibility to save them. Though he didn't know it, one was already killed, the others, fighting to stay alive.

He was one of the first men back into the city, in a Humvee with add-on armor but a canvas roof -- built for noncombat use. It was all they had at the time they got the rescue call. Since the stated mission in Sadr City was to improve the quality of life for locals, the division brought only a fraction of its standard armor component for the 2004 deployment in Iraq.

It wasn't long before his vehicle came under heavy fire. Four were hit immediately, including Denomy. After dropping off the wounded at a casualty collection point, Denomy -- hit in the shoulder and back -- gathered up his remaining men and 15 others, and went back into the city. Eventually, the men were rescued. That day, eight men were killed. Over 60 wounded.

Seven years later, Denomy, who is still in the army, now a major, still struggles with decisions from that day.

"In the heat of the moment, based on what we knew, it's hard to say I would make those decisions differently. But looking back, there were opportunities to make different decisions," he told ABC News recently.

The end of the war is bittersweet for him as well.

"I think Iraq is a better place because of a lot of what we've done," he said. "And that's mixed with the -- I'm using 'regret' a lot here -- but the regret of the soldiers that were hurt or killed, particularly ones that were injured badly."

During that tour, his company of 135 lost two, and around 60 percent received the Purple Heart, awarded to those wounded in combat.

Denomy still thinks about the first soldier he lost that April day, Sgt. Eddie Chen.

"His case is uniquely difficult because he was the first one. We had no indication things were going badly... . But it still didn't change the regret because he was one of mine and I knew I was supposed to bring him home," he said.

Denomy worries about what happens next.

"With us leaving Iraq, are we going to lose a lot of the focus on the soldiers that are here now and are coming back, and have grave injuries and are going to require the country's support for years?" he asked.

"You'd like to think so -- but the war's burden been on so few for so long, so you wonder if people have really kept up with that," he said, a sentiment echoed by his wife Gina.

"It was definitely a big price to pay, but I'm glad that they're coming home," she said. "The military family is small in the grand scheme of the nation and I hope that everyone else takes a moment to realize the prices that they do pay because it is pretty significant."

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