When Jason Dudley hears the news of U.S. troops dying in Iraq, the Marine wonders why he is back in Scottsdale.
The Iraq he remembers was a grateful one, where hungry villagers made him fresh bread and people surrounded troops in the street, trying to hug them.
"It’s unfortunate now there’s more of these groups out there (killing American troops) and I’m sitting here watching it on TV when I could be out there fighting with my buddies," he said.
He calls the attacks on U.S. troops part of war, and he readily defends the reasons for a U.S. presence in Iraq.
"I’m not going to say that going over there was a huge mistake," Dudley said. "That’s ridiculous. We just freed an entire country in no time."
Dudley, 26, is a reservist who has been called to active duty twice — once after Sept. 11, 2001, and again this year.
He doesn’t readily talk about his experiences in the war. When he does, the stories are chilling.
After a month of waiting at Camp Commando in Kuwait, Dudley loaded onto a 7-ton truck, part of a long convoy traveling north to Baghdad.
Near Nasr, a 7-ton truck rolled over in the middle of the night, injuring several Marines. From there, his company secured Fajr and a Baath Party compound.
There, villagers handed out bread and tried to catch troops’ attention by throwing rocks at posters of Saddam Hussein. One of Dudley’s friends gave an Iraqi boy his sunglasses, and the boy’s father tried to give the Marine one of the family goats in appreciation.
The company found trouble just south of Baghdad, where the Iraqi army was shooting at another Marine company. Troops took shots all night. Once they had secured the area, they found a recently deserted Palestine Liberation Front training camp.
"I found a bowl of cereal with milk in it," he said. "They had just left."
In Baghdad, the troops helped secure the United Nations building and military compounds, where they found weapons and suits designed to sustain biological and chemical attacks.
Then they headed to Tikrit, where they expected to encounter major resistance at a presidential palace.
"We’re all pumped up and nobody was there," Dudley said. "We even got out the map to make sure we were in the right place."
There, in a bathroom with gold trim, Dudley took his first shower in a month.
After several weeks in Tikrit, the troops traveled back south to Kuwait, spending time in several cities along the way to do humanitarian work and establish local governments and police forces.
Dudley has been back in the United States for about two months, and now recruits new Marines from Saguaro, Coronado and Arcadia high schools. He’s planning to go back to Scottsdale Community College later this month, and hopes to apply to be a deputy sheriff in Maricopa County.
"I think he’s pretty well adjusted," said his mother, Shelly Dudley.
His fiancee, Julie Sanborn, said she noticed more maturity in Dudley — and a willingness to show more emotion — since he’s returned home.
People still want to shake his hand when they hear he served in the war, but Dudley said he’s uncomfortable with accolades, especially when he compares what he saw to the experiences of Vietnam, Korean and World War II veterans.
"I have a different perspective," he said. "I have a deeper respect for combat veterans."