The Iraq War: New York Veterans Share Their Stories

Friday, March 19, 2010

This week marks the seventh anniversary of the war in Iraq. On March 19, 2003, U.S. forces invaded Iraq and they are still there, making it one of the longest wars in American history. WNYC's Femi Oke met up with two retired marines from New York who both served in Iraq.

Femi spoke to Richard Hake on The Takeaway:

Nancy Schiliro

Nancy Schiliro

Former Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Nancy Schiliro served in Iraq in 2005 and remembers how determined she was to go to war.

'This country begged for war, and I was one of them when 9/11 happened,' she says. 'I'm a New Yorker. I only live twenty minutes outside of the city. I saw it. It hit my heart as much as it hit anybody else in this country's heart. Who doesn't want blood after a scene like that? But I think I was stupid then. I didn't realize what I was really asking for.'

Former Marine Corps Sgt. Jeff Coombs did two tours of duty in Iraq, starting in June 2004. He talks about taking part in the battle of Fallujah with a great sense of pride, knowing that he earned himself a place in history. It was Coombs' second deployment in Iraq that ended his career in the Marines. His job was to scour a six-lane highway looking for explosives.

'Finding an IED [improvised explosive device] -- you rarely find them, they find you. My first tour I might have got hit maybe three, four times. My second deployment I got hit with five, six IEDs.'
It's no accident that Schiliro and Coombs met me at the Prosthetics Lab at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Manhattan. Coombs' final encounter with an IED cost him his arm. And Schiliro was almost at the end of her tour of duty when she was caught in a gas blast that left her blind in one eye. She now wears a prosthetic eye that looks exactly like the one she lost, except that it doesn't dilate like a real eye. They both think they're lucky they came back from Iraq and lost, in their words, 'so little.' They’re not bitter about their injuries, they just consider them hazards of the job they signed up to do.

I learned more about the Iraq war from listening to these two twenty-somethings than any documentary or news report I've seen recently. To hear their war stories and uncensored analysis of Iraq reminded me that I should be paying attention to what happens there every day and not just on the anniversaries.


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Comments [3]

Susan Cohen Ph.D,RN,CS

“Soldiers Project” Offers Free Help To Military Personnel and Families

The Soldiers Project is a private, non-profit group of volunteer licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, and marriage and family therapists that was established to provide free confidential mental health counseling to military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and their loved ones (including girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, children, parents and grandparents). The Soldiers Project is outside the military; it operates on a private practice model, with free counseling of­fered, in private offices, with no red tape, a flexible schedule, and no limit to the num­ber of sessions.

There are over 7,000 American ser­vicemen and women with military serv­ice in either Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) or Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) on Long Island alone. Of those who have returned home from overseas, the prevalence rates for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and related psychiatric problems may be as high as 30 percent. The implications for mental health clinicians are profound. Repeated and extended de­ployments, are extremely stressful for the men and women involved and on their families. Literally thousands of trauma­tized individuals, many of them in their 20s, will be presenting with, a wide range of serious behavioral and emotion­al problems.

Veterans, wives, husbands, children, parents, and other loved ones are all affected by the separation that is part of serving in the military. Returning home from being in combat presents real, challenges. The ethos of the military is to survive and endure, not to seek help, which makes help for returning soldiers all the more criti­cal. Families are adjusting to a shifting dynamic, and need marital, educational and occupational guidance as well. It is often teachers, physicians, nurses and oth­er social service providers who are the first to see these families in distress. The Soldiers Project offers seminars to these providers and to community groups, to heighten awareness that the disturbances that they are seeing may be related to having a family member in the service or one who has recently returned home.

For more information, please visit or call Susan R. Cohen PH.D, RN, CS, co-chair, Long Island Division of The Soldiers Project. Call (516) 284-7531.

Mar. 19 2010 08:32 PM
John Truran

I do not think that anyone belittles the sacrifices that our armed forces people have made siince 9/11. There is a feeling that I share that says the sacrifices were not necessary and should not have been demanded of those wonderful Americans.

Mar. 19 2010 09:25 AM

Jeff. Nancy. I want to thank you both and all of the men and women in uniform that are serving and that have served. I, too, once served. I served from 1986 to 1996 and was in the first Gulf War. Some of us DO care!

Mar. 19 2010 08:51 AM

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