What End of Iraq War Means for Vets

What happened today was exactly what Barack Obama said would happen: All U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of the year.

But almost everyone believed the Iraqis would ask us to stay longer. It was clear they’d still need help, and the U.S. military fully expected to keep, at the very least, several thousand troops in Iraq to continue training the forces there. Most senior military leaders were urging the Iraqis to let us stay and help.

The Iraqis are not prepared with Medevacs or Air Force or other  logistics help the U.S. still provides.

Hearing President Obama say today that the war would end brings back a flood of memories –  of all the men and women who have served in Iraq, all  the courageous service members I have met during 20 trips to Iraq, and all  the family members who have kept them going from the home front.

I remember the dead, the wounded and the brave survivors, such as Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger, who watched soldiers die next to him and saved so many others. “I get the first casualty, guy right next to me got hit,” Miltenberger told me in 2004.

“He had gunshot wound to his arm,” Miltenberger continued. ”I said, ‘You’re good, keep firing. He said he couldn’t move. So, I said, OK, just lie there. We continue on down the road about another 50 feet, and he starts spitting blood on me. So, I knew it was worse than that. I see an enemy or soldier -civilian with an AK pop up. So, I shoot a couple rounds at him until he hits the ground. And one person behind me says, I’m wounded now. I turn around. He’s got a gunshot wound to the leg. He hands me the bandages and stuff. It was bleeding pretty bad, so I just put a tourniquet on it, cut the blood off to the leg instantly.”

I think not only of Miltenberger, who is now out of the Army, but also of those who served time and time again. Tim Karcher lost his legs in 2009, a few weeks after I interviewed him in Sadr City. His recovery and spirit have been remarkable. And I saw young Mark Little lose his legs right before my eyes at a combat hospital in Baghdad in 2007. I saw him again a few weeks ago. Like Tim Karcher, Little is an inspiration. I am sure all of my good and bad memories will stay for a long time. But today I am concentrating on my favorite part of the president’s speech,  when he reminded us that the coming months will mean a “season of homecomings.”

My “Nightline” interviews with Miltenberger and others: