BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Gene Dufrene will never forget the year 2005. The long time Mississippi National Guard member, and a lifetime resident of the coast, was sent to Iraq that year. It was probably the most deadly year for our troops. It seemed almost daily, that American troops were dying in IED attacks.
"It was just something that you will never forget," Dufrene told us during a recent Project Homefront interview.
It was only three hours after first stepping foot on Iraqi soil that Gene witnessed his first IED attack.
"They had three sets of IEDs that were linked together, that would go off simultaneously whenever the guy squeezed the trigger," he said
Gene was only about 75 yards away. He was not hurt, but it was a way of telling him that Iraq would be a very dangerous place.
"After it was over and done, I was like, 'Wow, this is going to be a long year,'" he said.
Miraculously, no American soldier that died that day. But there were other IED attacks that Gene witnessed. And those times, the Americans weren't so lucky. In fact, there were two incidents when five of his fellow soldiers died.
Gene knew every one of those guys. They were all part of the 155th Charlie Company, with the Mississippi National Guard.
"These were great guys. Husbands, brothers, great outstanding people," he said choked with emotion. "It leaves an emptiness in you that you will never overcome."
Gene had a background in police work here at home, but this was war. It requires a totally different kind of mind set.
"Over there, you had to be the meanest thing on the block in order to survive. Because it was a you hunt them, or they hunt you type deal."
Gene has a lot of emotional scars from his time in Iraq. He suffers from PTSD, and has received a great deal of help from Harrison County's Veteran's Service Office.
Iraq is behind him now, but he so vividly remembers his last day in country: Getting on that chopper that morning and glancing down at his fellow American soldiers he was leaving behind.
"Knowing what I had been through, I prayed to God that those guys did not have to endure what we had to go through," Gene said.