• July 13, 2014

A decade later: Combat veterans reflect on Iraq War

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Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 4:30 am

Former Fort Hood soldier Glennie Burks III was a private fresh out of basic training when his company commander in the 4th Infantry Division brought the company of artillery troops to a halt during a morning run in March 2003.

The commander’s message was simple: The unit is deploying to the Middle East — get ready.

Less than 30 days later, Burks — 18 at the time — was riding in a Humvee across the border from Kuwait to Iraq.

His was one of the first units to enter Iraq in the war that began 10 years ago today.

It was a different time then; George W. Bush was president, Saddam Hussein was in power, and hardly anyone had heard the term IED, or improvised explosive device.

Much of that would soon change, and as Burks drove through Baghdad on a dark night in late March 2003, things were anything but clear.

“It was a lot of feelings of uncertainty,” he said.

He and his fellow soldiers, who were trained to fire big guns across large distances, became security escorts for dignitaries and convoys.

It wasn’t long before Burks got his first taste of a roadside bomb.

The blast happened during a three-vehicle convoy, exploding between the second and third vehicle.

“I ended up driving through the smoke and fire,” Burks said, adding the blast did little damage.

In the early months of the war, the so-called IEDs weren’t very deadly. That, too, would change.

While Burks was riding in a January 2004 convoy, this time in armored Bradley fighting vehicles, a landmine packed with C-4 exploded underneath one of the vehicles.

The damage was extensive, and killed two of Burks’ friends: Sgt. Edmond Randle and Spc. Larry Polley Jr.

Burks earned a Bronze Star for his actions at the scene, running into the fiery aftermath to pull the wounded to safety.

Perhaps by fate, Burks was not riding in the Bradley that was destroyed, although he said he normally would have been.

On the morning before the explosion, a sergeant had ordered Burks to ride in another Bradley because the sergeant wanted to use Bradley’s working heater. It’s a detail that may have saved Burks’ life.

He ended up doing a second tour in Iraq from 2007 to 2009, after which he left the Army, with the rank of staff sergeant.

All told, Burks said he doesn’t regret fighting in the Iraq War, although it’s not something he’d want to do again.

These days, Burks is a student at Dallas Christian College studying the Bible.

He wants to minister when he graduates, and what he experienced in Iraq had an impact on that goal.

“The war showed me that this world is divided and in need of unity,” he said.

A birth not seen

For Copperas Cove resident Matthew Coppock, the Iraq War represents a missed opportunity: It’s the reason he wasn’t able to witness the birth of his first child.

“I was one of the unfortunate ones who was deployed when my daughter was born,” Coppock said. “I can’t get that back. It’s gone.”

Coppock, 32, deployed to Baghdad in 2006, and worked on logistics systems. One of his jobs was escorting contractors on and off the military base.

“It seemed like for a while, they (the insurgents) were trying to blow up the gates every day,” he said.

IEDs and car bombs were common.

One thing that Coppock won’t forget is “the smell,” he said. “They used to burn s--- and tires all the time.”

Coppock was able to take leave about three months after his daughter was born, and has had a son since then — a birth he was able to attend.

In the end, however, it was Coppock’s experience in the Iraq War — being far away from family for months at a time — that ultimately made him decide to not stay in the Army.

“This is not the lifestyle I want to subject my family to,” he said.

After he got out of the Army in 2007 as a specialist, Coppock worked as a contractor doing the same job he did in the Army.

He worked in Afghanistan a bit, but that, too, kept him away from family.

On Monday, however, he started a new job at a pest control company in Temple. Most importantly, it’s a job that will keep him close to home.

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