In the fall of 2004, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Adams arrived in Mosul as the top-ranked enlisted soldier in a Stryker Brigade charged with stabilizing Iraq’s second-largest city and helping to build a new Iraqi army.
Twelve bloody months later, after the deaths of more than 40 soldiers and the wounding of some 600 others, the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, then based at Fort Lewis, had made what Adams called “enormous progress” taking back the city and helping pull off the first-ever elections.
Since retiring from the Army, Adams has struggledwith post-traumatic stress and tried to refrain from diving too deep into the memories of that year of urban combat.
But this week, thoughts of Iraq can’t be avoided among the blitz of news reports about the fall of Mosul to Sunni insurgent forces.
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Adams works out at the gym at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) with other veterans of his brigade, where they talk about Iraq as the overhead televisions display images of the ongoing conflict.
“To watch the people we trained just give up their weapons, their vehicles. Those vehicles that we were in. To see them given to enemy hands, it is just depressing,” he said. “Beyond depressing, heart-wrenching.”
Adams believes that his soldiers did their job. But he says the total withdrawal of American troops in 2011 left Iraqi forces unable to sustain those gains as their nation’s leaders stoked sectarian tensions.
“How did we get to this point? Now we don’t care,” he said. “All my people. What did they die for? It’s just beyond words.”
Fort Lewis, now part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, sent tens of thousands of troops to Iraq, where they played a significant role in the surge of U.S. troops that helped set the stage for the withdrawal of American troops in 2011.
During the Iraq deployments, 201 soldiers from the Western Washington base died, according to a JBLM spokesman.
Adams’ unit arrived in Iraq less than two years after the initial U.S. invasion, at a time when insurgents intensified their campaign. During the tour, the brigade was subjected to 1,387 attacks by roadside bombs, 84 assaults by vehicles packed with explosives, and daily threats from mortars, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
Bomb attacks also killed and wounded many Iraqi civilians, including children.
“Your heart and soul is still there. I’m never going to not care about those (Iraqi) people, and those who tried to protect them,” Adams said.
“We are the greatest nation on the Earth, with the most powerful military on the planet. We have brilliant officers that lead our military. How can we fail so miserably on setting a clear-cut policy and achieving it, and leaving gracefully?” he said.
“If we just turn it back to the bad guys a few years later, did we achieve our objectives? Obviously not.”
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org