GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It was a war that started with "shock and awe." On Tuesday, the nation marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. More than 2,400 Gulfport Seabees have been deployed to the war-torn country. Two Seabees who served in Iraq talk about their missions and their memories.
April and Joshua Brand both deployed to Kuwait in November of 2002, as part of the military build-up in the Middle East. Four months later, U.S. and coalition forces launched the war on Iraq.
"When it was declared, we were watching it in the galley, our unit. And there was a very large eruption of applause, because we were not over there for nothing," said April Brand.
April went on nearly a dozen supply convoys between Kuwait and Iraq. Joshua built bridges. He recalled images of deplorable conditions and Iraqis begging for food.
"Even if it was a small candy bar, they'd beg for it. And you know that always sticks in your mind, because why should people have to beg for that, you know?" Joshua said.
April agreed the war has given her a deeper appreciation of what she has in the United States, especially of her fellow service members.
"It taught me to respect and appreciate what we have in the U.S., simple things like ice, something to wear every day that I can wash, friendships that we forge, and the service and sacrifice that our service members put on the line," said April.
April experienced that sacrifice first hand on the home front. In 2004, she was pregnant with the couple's first child while Joshua was on his second deployment in Iraq.
"I was there waiting for him to come home, and it was hard because the communications were really broken up. We're lucky to get an email," said April.
The Brands expressed pride in their service and the Seabee's humanitarian mission in Iraq, like building roads, schools, and a bond with the people.
"I think we did help out the people over there, especially the hand-in-hand workmanship that we did to teach them a trade to be able to reconstruct themselves," said Joshua. "I think we did the right thing in there and helped those people. They're just taking their time about how they want to grow their country now."
"We went there to rebuild what was being destroyed. We went there to set up relationships with the Iraqi people and I think that we did that completely. The Seabees completed our mission and we did it well," said April.
A spokesman for the Gulfport Seabee base said there are no Seabee units serving in Iraq now.