Operation Iraqi Freedom leaves behind a mixed legacy

Julia LeDoux
March 20, 2019 - 7:00 am
Soldiers, Iraqis, guns

82nd Airborne Division

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Army veteran Dennis Higgins didn’t see President George W. Bush’s March 19, 2003 address to the nation announcing the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He was already in Kuwait with the 82nd Airborne Division, waiting to cross the border into Iraq to take down its leader, Saddam Hussein.

“I didn’t cross the border March 19,” he said. “I was a couple of days behind.”

Bush launched OIF to rid Iraq of Hussein and eliminate the former dictator's ability to develop weapons of mass destruction.  In the days following Bush’s address, U.S.-led coalition forces swept through the country and quickly drove Hussein from power.

Higgins was part of a ground surveillance team for an intelligence battalion that initially arrived in Kuwait on Valentine’s Day in 2003.

Saddam Hussein painting
82nd Airborne Division

“A lot of the time, we were providing security for our human intelligence teams,” he said. “As our human teams would meet with different people, we were their security.”

Only three out of the 75 soldiers that made up Higgins’ unit had any combat experience when OIF began.

“That kind of contrasted to my later deployments, when everyone had combat experience,” he said.  “Even when I was in boot camp, only three of 12 drill sergeants had combat experience.”

Higgins’ unit returned to its home base of Fort Bragg, North Carolina in May that same year. 

“I remember thinking why are we leaving,” he said. “But, that was above my pay grade. I didn’t understand that, and still, don’t.”

Battle OIF
82nd Airborne Division

The unit was sent back to Iraq a few months later in August.

“It was like that movie `Groundhog Day,’” he said. “We were asking what are we doing back here again?”

Higgins himself would deploy to Iraq three additional times for a total of five tours there. He also served in Afghanistan twice.

“When I initially enlisted it was to go after Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden,” he said. “When we initially went into Iraq, it was for WMDs. It turned into a big slog. There wasn’t a big meaning to it.”

Even though it was mission accomplished for OIF when it came to driving Hussein from power, Higgins said the legacy of the conflict is a mixed one.

“I don’t know what the legacy is going to be,” Higgins said. “It’s still going on. I’m not sure anyone can explain why.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom was renamed Operation New Dawn in December of 2011, when the last American troops in Iraq crossed the border back into Kuwait.

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