December 22, 2011
Reflecting on the end of the war in Iraq, Sgt. William Johnston remains confident in what his unit set out to accomplish three years ago.
"We didn't do it to take over their country, we did it to free them from their oppressors," said Johnston, infantryman, 4th Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).
Johnston, who served a 15-month deployment with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, was instrumental in helping the citizens of Iraq take back their communities from Al Qaeda terrorist.
"We made great strides and progress," said Johnston "I think the Iraqi people got sick of habitating the insurgency. They came to us as much as we were trying to influence them. It was a joint effort."
Johnston continued to say his unit was also able to resolve conflicts with certain enemy forces whom they had been fighting with earlier in his deployment.
"We were one of the first units to completely reconcile with a Sunni militia that was once loyal to Saddam and the Ba'ath Party," explained Johnston.
Unfortunately, the road to liberation for the Iraqi villagers and reconciliation with the Sunni militia did not come without a price.
"He [Spc. Robert Dembowski Jr.] was a friend I met day one in the Army. We went to the same basic training together, airborne school together and ended up in the same battalion. I ate chow with him the day before," said Johnston, remembering one of the last moments he shared with his friend. "He knew the sacrifice and the risk we were taking. He died doing what he wanted to do for our country."
More than just the death of his friend, the war in Iraq has impacted Johnston in a more personal way.
"We were in a fire-fight. I was a .50 cal gunner when an enemy grenade detonated in close proximately of my truck. I suffered severe Traumatic Brain Injury and minor shrapnel," said Johnston.
Today Johnston continues to receive care for his injuries and pays homage to his fallen comrade through a memorial bracelet he wears on his right wrist. However, Johnston is without any regrets.
"My deployment is my most memorable moment of my life," said Johnston. "Doing what I did over there is what I joined the Army to do. I feel like I played a role in liberating the innocent people of Iraq from the corruption they were going through."