Central Texas veterans reflect on 20-year anniversary of start of Iraq War ground operations

Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 9:23 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Monday marks 20 years since the start of the United States-led invasion of Iraq.

Memories from the event still haunt many American’s minds today, especially, for the veterans who fought during it.

20 years ago, military cars spanned across Iraq during the United States-led invasion of the country.

The goal was to destroy weapons of mass destruction and end the rule of President Saddam Hussein.

Rolando Hernandez said he was a Marine and served in the war for seven months during 2003 and 2004.

He said he was a part of the Marine strike force unit and was at the initial invasion into Iraq.

“The thrill, the excitement, the being scared, seeing all kinds of weird stuff out there,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez said he’s had multiple near-death experiences.

The veteran said while he and his crew were transporting a prisoner on a helicopter, harm came their way.

“All of a sudden, we started hearing rounds. Going by the helicopter, bouncing off the helicopter. I said, ‘Hey man, I thought we were in the dark, how do they see us? What’s going on,’” said Hernandez.

As Hernandez views his tokens and memorabilia, he said he looks at the 20-year mark as a day for memories.

But he also uses Monday to reflect on the veterans who’ve lost their lives and took their lives.

“Some people have problems adjusting. For the few that are out here who can’t take it, they do have problems. They take their lives and that’s the sad part about it. Because a lot of times, people think that they don’t have anyone or there’s no one there for them, or no one understands them when they get out. I understand. Once I got out, it was hard to get off the couch. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t really adapt,” said Hernandez.

Elja Kampfhenkel said he was in the Air Force during the war three separate times.

He said we should always respect veterans and understand their internal conflicts.

“They may be facing challenges and struggles within them that the average person hasn’t,” said Kampfhenkel.

“A lot of our central Texas veterans didn’t just go to Iraq once. Some of them did their whole four years there. For these people here, I solute them, I tip my hat off to all our central Texas Veterans, and say, ‘Thank you for helping us out there,’” said Hernandez.

Hernandez said he started the Silkies Invasion of Waco group to bring awareness to veterans’ suicide and mental health issues by addressing the issue with a hands-on approach.