SoCal veterans frustrated by chaos in Iraq

Brandon Washington’s Iraq war service left him with post traumatic stress and a slight brain injury.
Brandon Washington’s Iraq war service left him with post traumatic stress and a slight brain injury.
Sharon McNary
Brandon Washington’s Iraq war service left him with post traumatic stress and a slight brain injury.
Jason Kyle, an Iraq war veteran, works at a company in Brea that manufactures scopes for rifles.
Denise Guerra

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Veterans of the Iraq war have seen their efforts to bring stability to the Iraqi population and U.S. interests largely reversed as terrorist-backed extremists have overrun major population centers.

More than 700 Californians died in the Iraq war, and many more were left with lasting injuries, including Army veteran Brandon Washington. He copes with post traumatic stress and a slight brain injury after being involved in a crash when his convoy came under mortar fire.

Washington continually keeps up with news about Iraq, and seeing rebel forces take back territory that U.S. soldiers fought to secure and place under the Iraqi government is frustrating.

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"We went town to town and city to city making these places safe," said Washington, who rode with  truck convoys from Baghdad Airport to deliver ammunition, food and medical supplies to the U.S. Army's 28th Combat Support Hospital.

"We are going to lose every gain that we have made in Iraq and Afghanistan if something isn’t done," Washington said. "But the question, of course, is what is that something?"

Whether President Obama should respond with weapons or diplomacy, air attacks or ground troops – those are the questions Washington chews over with others at the Vet Center of Los Angeles, a service of the VA that helps veterans adjust to civilian life.

"It’s hard. It’s hard to talk to other veterans right now especially because you have that idea that we may be going back. It feels like that," said 35-year-old Washington.

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Miles away, Iraq war veteran Jason Kyle, of Santa Ana, also follows the chaos as city after city falls to the rebels. He led a platoon of 12 soldiers early in the war.

"We did the push for the main battle for Falluja. That was pretty much just three weeks of intense urban combat," said Kyle. "It was kind of an infantryman’s dream and nightmare at the same time. We got to do what we were trained to do but at the same time we lost a lot of good men doing it."

The 35-year-old former Marine staff sergeant said one of his men one died in combat. Years later, another committed suicide.

He’s proud of those battles to take territory during his first deployment. He’s also proud of the community-building work he did during his second Iraq deployment.

 “We wasn’t kicking down doors as much as talking to people, you realized that it’s going the way we wanted too, but it’s not going to last," said Kyle, who now works for a company that makes rifle scopes. "I wanted to see that country do good. You know, I mean, we lost a lot of lives over there. No matter what happens to that country, I don’t think any of our men died in vain."

Like Washington, he’s ambivalent about the gains being rolled back now that the U.S. is largely out of Iraq.

"I don’t think it would accomplish anything, but at the same time, if they asked me to put back on my uniform and go back in, I would do it in a heartbeat," said Kyle.

For some veterans like Ricardo Reyes, Director of Military and Government Affairs at a nonprofit called The Veterans Project, any U.S. intervention is futile.

"We can’t stop Iraq from sliding into civil war and religious sectarianism without occupying the country indefinitely," said Reyes, "I oppose military intervention. It was the wrong decision under President George W. Bush and it's the wrong decision now. 

Reyes has spent several years helping servicemen and women transition back into civilian life in Los Angeles since many who have returned from war often face severe battles with major depression and PTSD.

In a nationally televised speech, President Obama said he will consult with Congress on possible airstrikes. The President ruled out sending U.S. ground troops into combat. He has said the government would not intervene in Iraq without substantial policy changes from that country's leaders.

Defense secretary Chuck Hagel has since ordered a warship and guided missiles into the Persian Gulf.

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