On the Radar
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, Brig. Gen. Gary Volesky and his wife LeAnn say there were many "worst days" during the war, but they are confident that the sacrifices the United States made were worth it.
"If I looked at 2004 in Sadr City and saw what we walked in to and brought you back a year later and showed you what contributions, what those soldiers did in that area, it was clearly worth it," Brig. Gen. Volesky tells On the Radar. "And being able to fly a year later, back into that same city and see the Iraqi police doing things that only we could do, you look and say yeah, we made a difference."
But Brig. Gen. Volesky, currently the Army’s Chief of Public Affairs, gets somber when talking about the soldiers he lost.
"Every time I had to attend a memorial service for one of our soldiers, and every time I had to call LeAnn and say, 'we've lost another great, great soldier,' those are my worst days. So there isn't one, there's many bad days in combat," says the brigadier general, who served as a battalion commander during the first of his three deployments to Iraq and returned from Afghanistan last year.
LeAnn knows first-hand the sacrifices that military families have made over the last ten years, choking up as she talks about the first woman she comforted following the news that her husband had been killed in a battle in Iraq.
"Oh. Mrs. Hiller," LeAnn recalls the wife of Spc. Stephen Hiller, as tears come to her eyes. " She with her kids, it was just heartbreaking. It's just, it was very hard being married to a soldier seeing someone who just lost a soldier, thinking that could be me. She did it. She was, she did a great job of you know, bucking up, and doing the things that she needed to do to take care of her family afterwards, but looking in her eyes afterwards, that's the hardest thing in the world."
Despite the hardships they’ve faced, and the fact that LeAnn and their son Alex were separated from the brigadier general for four and a half years during his deployments, LeAnn still describes the last ten years of their marriage as "wonderful.”
"Even with deployments, even with everything going on, it's a ride you wouldn't, you couldn't forget even if you wanted to, but it's been a ride that I've enjoyed the heck out of," says LeAnn. "I don't like having him gone, obviously, but, we've gotten to experience so many things that we couldn't have if we weren't in the military."
While Brig. Gen. Volesky and LeAnn are happily reunited and holding hands, they acknowledge that this isn't the case for many families. The military is facing tremendous challenges in the wake of war, ranging from post traumatic stress to high divorce rates.
"There are some challenges in the force and we're not gonna hide behind it, we're gonna get through those a number of ways. One is our leaders, and the leadership has to be engaged, has to be concerned," the brigadier general says, who goes onto say that it's the military's obligation to help its soldiers reintegrate successfully into civilian life. "And we've gotta get our soldiers to look after one another and get through the stigmas associated with saying that they've got problems."
To hear more of the interview with Brig. Gen. Volesky and LeAnn, check out this episode of On the Radar.
ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, and Betsy Klein contributed to this episode.