Reflections on Iraq war anniversary

By Union Democrat staff March 21, 2013 09:47 am

Wednesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the day the United States led the invasion into Iraq that has left more than 100,000 Iraqis and nearly 4,500 Americans dead. 

A decade after Operation Iraqi Freedom began and more than a year after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the war remains a contentious topic among Americans who argue whether U.S. troops should have been there at all. 

“I don’t think we should have been in Iraq,” said Groveland woman Virginia Tallman, whose son was killed in the war five years ago.

Sgt. Matthew Tallman was killed in a helicopter crash Aug. 22, 2007 — just a couple months after arriving in Iraq.

He left behind his wife, Nicole, a 1-year-old son, Riley, and 6-year-old daughter, Sandy.

He was the first Tuolumne County soldier to be killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Virginia Tallman said she remembers the day she heard the devastating news “like it was yesterday.”

“I don’t think it’s something you ever forget,” she said.

Every year on Aug. 22, Tallman goes backpacking to take her mind off that day.

Matthew Tallman joined the Army before the war to “get some direction,” his mother said.

“It was very good for him,” she said. “He liked what he did.”

Virginia Tallman supported her son’s decision but said she might have thought differently if she knew what was going to happen.

Wanda Baxter, a Jamestown woman whose daughter served in Operation Iraqi Freedom for six years, expressed different views about the U.S. entering Iraq. 

“I don’t think it was a bad thing,” she said. “We were there for a very good reason, and we have to support our troops no matter what.”

Baxter’s daughter, Sgt. Amber Caplette, served in the Army in Iraq and earned a Bronze Star for her work in biometrics.

Biometrics is the science of measuring biological data such as fingerprints, eye retinas and voice patterns. Modern technology can measure biological data for authentication.

Caplette, according to her recommendation letter, revolutionized the biometric training focus by developing the first-ever biometric watchlist certification course within the Iraqi Theater of Operations and within the Department of Defense.

Baxter said Caplette trained U.S. troops to detect “improvised explosive devices,” also known as “roadside bombs.”

Caplette entered the Army after graduating from college and initially served in South Korea as an interrogator. 

“I thought it was a good opportunity to see the world and to learn a lot of new things, and do things for the greater good,” Baxter said.

But after a year in South Korea, the 21-year-old was deployed to Iraq.

“All of the bombs and destruction and everything … It was a lot to take in,” Baxter said.

Caplette, now 32, lives in Dallas, Texas, where she is working on a master’s degree in theology.

Although Caplette doesn’t talk about the war in Iraq often, Baxter believes it is important to remember it.

“A lot (of people) have given a lot more for our country,” she said. “It’s something we should never forget.”

Columbia resident Dona Lewis, whose son spent three tours in Iraq, agreed that the memory of those who served should be kept alive. She said she has dealt with the war by participating in Operation MOM, a national support group for military families. 

“Besides being so proud of my son, I am proud of every other person that served,” she said. “I think everybody in some way should do something for their country.”

Her son, Matthew Amaral, joined the Army at age 18 because he wanted to serve his country, she said. 

“The first time he went to Iraq, I quit listening to the news,” she said.

Amaral was discharged in July, after serving 10 years, and is currently in the Army Reserves. 

Now 29, he lives in Kansas and studies business accounting online at Western Governors University in Texas. He hopes to open a restaurant someday, Lewis said.

“I have a lot of mixed feelings,” Lewis said about the war. “I thought it was unnecessary but I thought the women and men that joined were heroes.”