Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

REFLECTIONS ON IRAQ FROM TRIO THAT SERVED; These Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Know All Too Well What's Going on in Iraq Right Now - and They Don't like It One Bit

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

REFLECTIONS ON IRAQ FROM TRIO THAT SERVED; These Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Know All Too Well What's Going on in Iraq Right Now - and They Don't like It One Bit

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Schoettler

The three men spend chunks of their days in the mostly empty halls, lonely rooms and quiet smoking spots of Jacksonville's Five Star Veterans Center.

Sometimes they seek out each other to reminisce over the triumphs and tragedies of war that only guys like them can understand because they've been there, done that.

They've seen craziness. Felt fear. Smelled death.

Other times, the images of battle remain locked in their heads, as fresh as when it happened years earlier.

Iraqi War veterans Patrick Petty, James Heeter and Richard Hobbs, all Jacksonville natives, are among a small group of men and women living at the center in Arlington while trying to transition into society. They said they appreciate the public for being respectful toward them, but urge people to listen to their stories, too.

And listen hard, they warn. More blood is about to be shed. More minds are about to be twisted.

A fast-paced, deepening crisis in Iraq that led to the recent deployment of 300 U.S. military "advisers" in Baghdad will lead to more deployments to prevent threats against American interests abroad and at home, the men said.

The U.S. move followed the insurgency - known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS - gobbling up turf to establish an Islamic republic straddling Syria and Iraq, along the way routing U.S.-trained and equipped Iraqi troops and coming within 20 miles of Baghdad.

The men said they could have predicted what's happening now and are convinced any kind of escalation will be disastrous.

"It's a slaughterhouse over there right now," said Heeter, 42, injured in a blast that led to a brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder from his Army tour in Baghdad in 2005-06.

Petty, 31, served one tour with the Marines in Afghanistan and then two in Iraq from 2004 to 2006. He's struggled with drugs, suicide attempts, divorce, unemployment and low self-esteem as a result of his post traumatic stress disorder.

Petty said he gets stronger by the day and remains proud of his service. But he wouldn't wish the trauma he's been through on anyone. …

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