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CHICAGO (CBS) – President Barack Obama is bringing all U.S. troops home from Iraq before the year’s end — a decision that is sparking a range of emotions for service members and veterans from the Chicago area.
More than 4,400 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003 – including 161 from Illinois and 94 from Indiana.
CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker spoke to U.S. Marine Cpl. Jonathon Cooper, who served three tours in Iraq, finishing the last one in 2007. He said he’s glad to see his fellow enlistees coming home.
During his time in Iraq, Cooper was in charge of the security at the base where he was stationed – checking vehicles, searching people for weapons, looking out for snipers.
Like many veterans, he said he saw too many of his friends die, but he believes they did not die in vain. He said that the mission in Iraq has been accomplished and it’s time for the troops to come home.
“I totally agree with President Obama with bringing the troops home from Iraq,” Cooper said. “Yes, the mission was accomplished. … It’s kind of a weak government, but there’s a standing government better than the dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.”
Cooper, 27, said he knows people serving in Iraq who will be coming within the next couple months.
“They’re excited. I’m pretty sure they’re ecstatic and pretty happy with, you know, the job that they accomplished,” Cooper said. “Returning home now, a lot of people don’t understand what we’ve been through, what we’ve done. So it’s going to be a hard adjustment.”
“I remember coming home the first time and driving down the center lane of the highway, because I was scared the trash was going to blow me up,” he added. “Even today, it’s difficult for me to go to a, like a sporting event, or any type of celebration that has fireworks, because it reminds me of stuff blowing up.”
“Being home is worth everything. When my children grow up, they can look back on this and say, ‘You know, my dad did something honorable and for the country,’” Cooper said.
Although it will be a challenge for soldiers returning home, Cooper said they have lots of support. There are a number of government and non-profit agencies that offer veterans help with jobs, school and readjusting to life back home.
U.S. National Guard Spc. Michael Rose of DeKalb had mixed emotions Friday. Rose said he would serve again if called, but he expressed reservations about the mission in which he participated.
“Honestly, I’m not sure about right or wrong,” he told CBS 2’s Mike Parker.
Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, was also ambivalent. As an Army pilot, she lost both legs when her chopper was shot out of the sky.
“I never thought we should have been in Iraq in the first place, but our troops have served so honorably, and I’m glad they’re coming home to their families,” she said.
“I didn’t sacrifice for Iraq,” Duckworth said. “I sacrificed for my country, and I’m proud of my sacrifice. I would do it again tomorrow.”
Reaction to Obama’s annoucement was divided among Illinois’ two U.S. senators.
While senior Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat like Obama, backed the withdrawal. But U.S. Sen Mark Kirk, a Republican, criticized the Obama administration’s decision, saying “it carries considerable risk.”
“Without a small U.S. military intelligence and support mission, Iraq is less likely to remain a U.S. ally and therefore becomes more susceptible to Iranian control,” Kirk said. “If the Iraqi government collapses or becomes an ally of Iran, U.S. national security is threatened. I am concerned the administration’s plan includes long-term risks that may advantage Iran.”