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A very long engagement

The majority of soldiers in Iraq go home after one or two deployments. A handful stay.

“The word of the day was IEDs,” he said. “They were everywhere. People were more worried about what was going on the side of the roads then what was going on on the roads.”

Three weeks after Bailey arrived, four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and killed as they entered Fallujah, one of a series of signs that U.S. occupation of Iraq was not going to end quickly.

“Not too long after the Blackwater contractors were killed, we moved into the city of Fallujah with several battalions and started basically rooting out the guys that were coming out to fight us, and there was a lot of them, a whole lot of them,” Bailey said. “It seemed like everybody had an RPG or a gun in Fallujah back then. You couldn’t get very far into the city before you started hearing booms and ricochets coming off vehicles and stuff like that. They definitely wanted to fight us head on.”

Bailey made it through that tour unscathed. He went back home, and, after leaving the Marines, became a police officer. But he didn’t like it.

“The worst part was going to work every day and knowing people hated you just because you are a cop, even though you never did anything to them. It was disheartening. ” he said. “But in the military you have huge sense of brotherhood and camaraderie.”

Bailey reenlisted and was deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division to Baghdad in March 2006, for the surge. When he returned, he had the World Trade Center tattooed on his right forearm. He’s never been to New York but says the tattoo reminds him, and others, of “why we’re doing this.” Bailey is now on his fourth deployment to Iraq. 

“Part of me is sick of coming here, being away from a toddler,” he said. “My daughter was just born — I actually missed her birth the last time I was here — and being away from my wife of eight years. But this is what I signed up to do when I was 18 years old and this is what I know. My wife came into it and we know that [deployments] are one of those things that are going to happen and we’re prepared for it.”

Turning out the lights

David Shumate was 20 years old when he invaded Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division, and he just turned 28. He spent a big chunk of his 20s in Iraq, and helped destroy the country’s army. Now he has seen it built back up again. He says the changes he’s seen since the early years of the Iraq occupation are like “night and day.”

“The Iraqi Army is a lot more established,” he said. “We no longer really can go into the cities without Iraqi escorts. We can’t go into an Iraqi house without an Iraqi escort and without a warrant or permission.”

He says that in 2006, if American troops felt that house was suspicious, they went into the house and “took care of business.” Now, he says, their mission is to support the Iraqis in their own sovereign country. He and his units have received indications that this will probably be their last tour here.

“You get the feeling that it’s the last deployment,” he said. “We were basically told you guys are going to turn the lights off on the way out the door.”

“I’m one of those guys I want to see it all the way through,” he said, when asked if he’s sick of coming to Iraq. “I’d rather stay here another year or two and get it done right then leave too early. I want us to leave and for this to work out, not for us to leave and the country have issues.”