Laredo veteran recounts his Iraq War journey

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 4:05 PM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - 20 years ago, then U.S. President George W. Bush announced the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion of Iraq.

It’s been two decades since the lives of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women changed forever. A Laredo veteran who enlisted at that time shared his journey from the beginning of the war and the aftermath that changed his life.

March 17, 2003 was the start of the war, but for Gabriel Lopez, March 20 of that year is the day he will always remember. “It was the initial attack. That’s where the first flyer jets, several carriers that were stationed there, began to bomb. It was a very dramatic experience,” said Lopez.

It was a war that left more than 4,000 U.S. and allied troops dead and more than 100,000 Iraqi men, women, and children killed.

Even though the Iraq War lasted eight years, Lopez said that for him, it will last a lifetime. “While you’re there you are very scared, you don’t think about it. You don’t operate on emotions and you don’t think about what you are doing, rather you just do what you have to do,” said Lopez.

Lopez recalled how one of his closest friends was killed during the war. “That really hurt me. That really put me in a different perspective. Some of those guys that didn’t come back were dear to me most of the time -- all the time,” said Lopez.

Lopez has moved forward with his mission: to protect the nation, and honor his late friend. After the Iraq War, Lopez returned home. However, the battles did not end on the field. He faced many challenges trying to adjust back to civilian life. “It’s difficult for veterans to make that transition, especially when you do multiple deployments. When you find yourself in very difficult situations, as traumatic as they can be, it’s very difficult when you come back,” said Lopez.

Despite these challenges, Lopez is honored to have served his country and is grateful to his fellow veterans who served in a war that changed the lives of many people around the world. “Whether you played an insignificant role or you made the ultimate sacrifice, it took all of us, all of us as a team, to defend our country and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” said Lopez.

According to Stop Soldier Suicide, the suicide rates among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are higher than any other veteran group. If you or someone you know is in need of help, you can call 844-317-1136.

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