LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - A Lehigh Acres veteran who served in both wars in Iraq says he's hopeful the end of combat operations will mean the U.S. won't have to return to Iraq in the future.
Staff Sergeant Robert Waigand's military career began with the marines in Vietnam, then continued with the army in Desert Storm. After that war, he felt Americans might have to return. The U.S. military did go back in 2003, and Waigand was with them.
"We'd get hit into two, three ambushes every trip," Weigand described, of the violence he encountered. He spent much of the first three years of the war in Iraq. "You couldn't really say there was any area over there that was... safe. "
Shrapnel to the face was Waigand's worst injury there. It would be a leg injury during training in the U.S. in 2007 that kept him from going back again.
"I'd rather have stayed in and finished up, and been there from start to finish," he said.
The experience still shapes his life, even back home:
"Going down the highways now, if I see a trash bag or something odd off the side of I-75, I change lanes."
Waigand was still IN Iraq when then-President Bush marked the first milestone of the war.
"His actual goal in the 'Mission Accomplished' was, we went in, we've liberated Baghdad, we've gotten Saddam out of a seating of power. That was the 'Mission Accomplished.'"
Now, Waigand is hopeful his service-- and those of his sons, who followed him into the military-- means the U.S. mission now is close to finally being over.
"I figured if I went over there I'd A, be able to teach some of the younger guys how to survive in situations, and B, my going kept somebody else's son from having to go," Waigand said. "Hopefully we won't be back."
While President Obama's speech marks the official end of combat operations, Americans are still in Iraq in a support role. Those 50,000 troops are likely to remain until at least the end of 2011.