Make your home page

Hoosier veteran reflects on 2nd Iraq War on 20th anniversary

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The 2nd Iraq War started 20 years ago this week.

It’s a war that lasted eight years and cost more than 4,400 American lives.

I-Team 8 spoke with a veteran who served as a medic and nurse in the Indiana National Guard. He was in Bagdad for 10 months.

All these years later, he sees good and bad with the war.

A folded American flag sits over the shoulder of Gordon Smith as he reflects back on personal pictures of himself from the war. I-Team 8 asked what thoughts he has at he looks at a photo of his younger self.

“Well, you’re right, a young man. That was several years ago when I look back at that and the things that you don’t expect in war. When you go into war you have some type of idealism of what you think war should be like, but when you get there all those things change.”

One curveball he faced: improvised explosive devices, or IED’s.

“If you drove past it here in the United States, you never thought about driving past that carcass. In Iraq, you didn’t know. They put bombs in those things.”

Getting into the battle rhythm helped him handle the fear of war, but it was still tough on his family.
“I remember my daughter called and I was talking to her on the phone and these mortars were dropping outside the window and she said, ‘What is that Dad?’ and I said, ‘The neighbors are just letting us know that they’re up now.”

An unknown of war Smith wasn’t expected to deal with years later was burn pits, which have been linked to causing cancer in thousands of veterans who served. “Not only the Americans. I mean, yeah, we had our small burn pits, but most of the stuff that was out there that was burning was stuff the Iraqis were burning. They’d burn tires, cars.”

Did Smith and his cohorts know the burn pits were bad for anyone nearby?

“No, no. Same thing in Afghanistan. We had a huge burn pit in Afghanistan at the end of the runway at Bagram air force base. It was huge. It was a couple blocks, and they were just dumping everything and anything in there. You never knew what was burning in there. You just knew you could smell smoke pretty much all the time.

“Looking back on some of the things, should we have taken precautions maybe more so? Yeah, maybe there were some things we needed to look at.”

For Smith, hindsight on the war is 20/20. That includes the reason the United States invaded Iraq to begin with, weapons of mass destruction.

Later, it was determined that, for the most part, new weapons of mass destruction existed.

Smith says that left a salty taste in his mouth. “It does in some ways. You know, if it’s not broken why do you go in a break it?”

Smith chooses to focus on the good that came from the war. “I do see a lot of benefits that have come out of the war. You’re seeing women being able to do a lot of things that they weren’t able to do.”

Despite anyone’s views on the war, Smith said, they should feel proud about the Hoosiers who served.