It was pitch dark when we left Iraq.
A line of more than 100 U.S. vehicles, and nearly 500 soldiers headed out to make history.
Some of the soldiers were on their fourth deployments to Iraq, but many more on their first.
A significant number of the soldiers were just children when the war began.
But all of us knew how profound this trip would be. I was in an MRAP, those massive mine resistant vehicles, with five soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division based in Fort Hood, Texas.
There is no U.S. Army division I have spent more time with in the last 9 years than 1st Cavalry.
I sat with courageous soldiers in 2004 in Sadr City, who had been in one of the most ferocious battles of the war.
Eight of the soldiers from the 2/5 Cavalry lost their lives that April night, the very first night the battalion took over in Sadr City.
Sixty more were wounded. So it especially poignant for me to climb into the MRAP on the way out of Iraq, one of the few reporters on the last convoy, to see 28-year-old Staff Sgt. Larry Hains.
Sgt. Hains had been there in 2004. He lost friends. He saw another paralyzed from the neck down. He was the most somber on the trip. It means something to him beyond a historical first.
While some of the younger soldiers understandably talked of the first beer they would have when they get home, Sgt. Hains and I reflected on this nine year war.
He was near tears as we crossed into Kuwait.
“I’m thinking about all of them, all of my friends, all of the soldiers who weren’t able to make this journey.” He quietly said “Mission Accomplished” but he did not mean it as a boast of victory.
He meant his personal mission, to give meaning to the loss.
To show his “brothers” that the 1st Cav would finish the job they started long ago.
While many in the nation may not look at this war as worth it, or feel it should ever have been started, for Sgt. Hains that trip across the border with the sun rising over Kuwait brought closure and pride.
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