Cedar Rapids marine reflects on deployment to Iraq 20 years later

Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 10:31 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The US launched the war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq on 20-years ago, on March 20th, 2003.

A generation of people now in their 40s reflected on a war that ended in 2011 and the impact the war had on their mental health.

Sgt. Dustin Peterson retired six months ago after serving 24 years as a US Marine. He completed 2-tours to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. The experiences of a 22-year-old marine were still vivid 20 years later.

“We went over there to stop the spread, import, or use of weapons of mass destruction,” said Sgt. Peterson. “I think, for most of us, there was an internal change and we were really fighting for the people that were being oppressed by Saddam.”

Now retired, Petersons said many people were still dealing with the long-term mental health effects of war. He said that included himself.

“When I came back from Iraq the second time, mental health was still a huge taboo,” he said. “People talked about losing security clearances, people talked about not having the right assignments to get promoted, so we bottled it up.”

Peterson said he was finally getting the treatment he needed after 24 years of service. It was something he said allowed him to talk publicly about his mental health for the first time, and now he wonders if the war was worth it.

“The people that died. The Iowans that died, the marines that were next to me that died, we still don’t know if it was a victory,” said Peterson. “A victory or a win in Iraq is once they’re finally, years from now, fully established, fully independent, fully capable of democracy or whatever government they want.”