RALEIGH, N.C. — It was exactly one year ago today that President George W. Bush ordered the start of the war in Iraq. A lot has happened since the start of the campaign in Iraq, but opinions are divided on whether it was the right thing to do and what we should do next.
One thing is certain -- with all the military installations in North Carolina, the war has had a major impact on our state.
It was one year ago that more than 300,000 coalition troops stood ready on Iraq's border. The fall of Iraq came quickly, but a year later, there is still a lot of uncertainty for soldiers and their families.
It has been a year of goodbyes, reunions and solemn farewells. More than 50 soldiers who lived or were based in North Carolina have died in the last year. The war is over, but the danger is not.
While former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was captured in December, U.S. soldiers still die at a rate of nearly one a day.
In a visit to Fayetteville Thursday, the Army's chief of staff said this is still a very dangerous time.
"We have a direct threat to this nation that is not well understood," Gen. Peter Schoomaker said.
Dangerous and tiring for soldiers. He says no one knows that better than the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg. Schoomaker says paratroopers are stretched thin and, unfortunately, he doesn't see an end to that in sight.
"There are elements of the 82nd that have been deployed 19 of the last 23 months. All I can promise you is that there's more to come and we are going to do better about getting some down time, but we are going to do what we have to do," he said.
Over the last year, thousands of North Carolina National Guardsmen have left their day jobs for new jobs in Iraq.
In the largest deployment of the Guard since World War II, 5,000 North Carolinians are now a central part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although the callup is for a year, WRAL Military Analyst Craig Marks says it is actually longer than that because their time does not start until they relieve a unit already overseas.
"When that unit says 'You got it,' and starts to pull out, that's when their year starts. Then they'll go 365 days and they'll come back here for three or four months to demobilize so they are going to be gone for 18 months," Marks said.
North Carolinians are still divided over the war. Peace protesters have planned a weekend rally near Fort Bragg to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of war in Iraq. Two other groups plan rallies on the same day to show support for soldiers.