When former U.S. Navy Corpsman Jeremy McLaughlin recounts his time in Iraq, there’s a particular memory he says haunts him to this day… when he and two others were sent to retrieve the body of an American soldier in an empty lot in a residential area in Nasiriyah.
“They’d buried it—it had been lying out for so long…”
McLaughlin says the person in charge wanted to abort the mission because they hadn’t brought shovels.
“It just really upset me that this guy just wanted to leave one of our fellow brothers here in the ground so I started digging with my hands.”
McLaughlin and another corpsman dug for a while but further orders forced them to leave the body behind.
“ It just upset me that his parents are going to get his remains—could get his remains in a Ziploc bag, could get all that’s left of their son in a Ziploc bag when we could have helped bring the body home. "
For McLaughlin it was a defining moment.
“I was like, if that’s the way we’re treating our soldiers over there and this guy lost his life doing what he thought was the right thing… We don’t treat our soldiers the way that we should and even other soldiers aren’t treating each other right.”
The 25-year-old served at the start of the Iraq war in 2003. He now believes the U.S. military should not be there. He says his experiences with Iraqi citizens showed him that the soldiers weren’t wanted.
“There were some that threw rocks at us…. They yelled stuff to us in Arabic which we found out through the interpreters were kind of like cursings on the U.S. soldiers and it was a lot of the children so we assumed they were getting that influence through their parents.”
McLaughlin describes himself as very shy…. Despite his fear of public speaking, he gives speeches at rallies as a member of the group “Iraq Veterans Against the War”.
“Our mission was a lie. Our reason for being in Iraq was a lie and I don’t think it takes too much research to realize that this mission that these people say we need to stick to it’s a fictitious mission…”
On the other side of the issue is John Ubaldi… He was in the Marine Corps Reserve when he was activated after September 11th. The 42-year-old served in both Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2005 respectively. He says an experience working with a local girls’ school has stayed with him.
“Just the conditions that they lived under, if you see the look of somebody, and in America you see the life—the children are smiling. Over there they’re sad.”
While in Afghanistan Ubaldi learned of the newly built school that had no supplies for students—so he appealed to his church back home for donations.
“A lot of those kids and you would see life back into them, especially when we delivered school supplies. Especially for the girls to be educated again.”
But once he was home, he says he was often questioned about the necessity for the U.S. presence… So Ubaldi became communications director for the group “Move America Forward”. He helps organize the group’s rallies and speaks out about the need to support the troops and the mission.
"There’s a need there. Not everything we’ve done is correct. And I can admit there’s some mistakes the Bush Administration did make and the lead up to the war the concept of us still going I still believe and a lot of us still believe was right.”
Ubaldi says the work helps him fulfill a promise he made to himself while still abroad:
“I was going to do my best to educate America of what this is about. This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue… This is about bringing freedom and choices to people.”
Both Jeremy McLaughlin and John Ubaldi fought the same war and their views are worlds apart. But each believes his activism encourages change and supports the troops.