Marines in Nasiriyah
Cris Bouroncle  /  AFP-Getty Images file
Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment emerge from a corridor during the takeover of a hospital in Nasiriyah on March 25, 2003, as the military faced unexpectedly stubborn resistance in the Iraqi city.
By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/17/2004 4:33:08 PM ET 2004-03-17T21:33:08

One year later, and there are signs of hope in this city.

While buildings reduced to piles of rubble during the war are only now being cleared, electricity today runs 24-7. Before the war, power was limited to four hours or less a day. 

Still, even with an electrical current, and the refrigeration that comes along with that utility, daily life in this city remains a chore.

What's different said 24-year old Ahmed Hammeed is that "before [the war] we had no aspirations. Now, I look forward to the future."

Hammeed is a college student, concentrating his studies on English. He added, "Without the United States our lives would be the same as they were before --  miserable."

A ‘cake walk?’
The U.S. Marines arrived in this city almost one year ago. So did NBC News.

I was a member of a three-man team embedded with those troops: the 2nd battalion, 8th Marines, otherwise known as the "2-8." 

We arrived with the 2-8 only hours after Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch and other members of her maintenance company were captured as prisoners of war. 

It was the city, in south-central Iraq where the U.S. military met its first serious resistance during the war.

More than 800 members of the 2-8 battled nine long days to gain control of this area. Before the war, the Department of Defense had called Nasiriyah "a cake walk." It turned out to be anything but.

A year later
Today, the men from 2-8 who fought here are scattered around the globe.

Some are in Afghanistan. Others are on duty in Haiti. And yet others are back in the United States. Some chose to end their careers with U.S. Marine Corps. 

Using telephone, e-mail, and some backdoor channels, I was able to track down and gather the thoughts of dozens of Marines I traveled with one year ago.

Video: Deadly day Major John Hogan, 37, is still in the Marine Corps. A father of two, he said he feels proud. "I think we did the right thing."

Hogan has long carried a small piece of paper in his wallet with a quote from former President Ronald Reagan. The quote reads, "Today, the world looks to American for leadership and America looks to its Corps of Marines." 

The quote, he said, is more meaningful after the battles in Iraq.

Chief Warrant Officer Jason Forgash, 34, agreed. But he also said he knows his work was just the beginning of a long commitment by the U.S. to this country.

"We are methodically, albeit slowly, eliminating the remnants of Saddam's evil regime," he said.

WMD?
What about the weapons of mass destruction? They were one of President Bush's chief reasons for the invasion of Iraq. To date, no WMD have been found.

"The lack of WMD does not diminish what we did in the least," Forgash said. "We liberated a country of well over 20 million people from an evil, tyrannical regime."

Forgash's wife Maria, like so many families, worried every minute he was at war. Was it worth it? 

"Jason's time away from me while in Iraq has made us learn to appreciate the little things in our lives. We take nothing for granted. Freedom is not free.”

Kevin Yeo, 39, was a captain during the war in Iraq. He has since been promoted to major, and is now stationed in Michigan. 

Yeo said his feelings now remain as they did when he was ordered into the region. The war was "worth doing as an attempt to build some type of democracy in the region." 

Yeo believes "the WMD question is only raised now because it's an election year."

A father of three, Major Yeo's wife, Andrea, grapples with the reality that the major may someday have to return to Iraq. "I won't think about it until I have to."

Still in this area of Iraq are members of the U.S. Air Force, and the Army. They are stationed at the Tallil Air Base, 17 miles south east of Nasiriyah.

The coalition forces also include soldiers from Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, and South Korea.

Slideshow: Year of conflict

The other countries are in Iraq "to show we support the United States," Italian Air Force Colonel Antonio Albanase said. 

Not all countries supported the U.S. efforts in Iraq. And today, one year later, more Americans are asking if the war could have been avoided.

Major Rob Fulford, 33 is a second-generation Marine. His father was a U.S. Marine Corps General. 

Currently on assignment at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico, Va., Fulford says the political choice to go to war in Iraq was just that, a question of politics. 

"The bottom line, our nation called us to war and we did our duty in an honorable and selfless manner," he said.

Forever changed
Timothy Apel left the Marine Corps when he returned home. A sergeant during the war, the 26-year old is now going to school full-time in Pensacola Fla.

MSNBC
Apel said he rarely talks about the war, and if he does, it's only in "broad general terms." 

Since returning home, Apel said, "I have not noticed much change, but my buddy Noah told me, ‘this place ain't changed at all, it's us.’"

That is an over-riding theme among the men I saw go into battle. That while the world has changed, so too have the lives of the men who fought in this war.

Navy Corpsman Michael Holmes, attached to 2-8 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, has tried to explain to his family how the war changed his life.

He said his 8-year old son Jacob seems to understand.

His twin 3-year old boys are too young now, but when they grow up, he will tell them, "Iraq has given us all new perspective on our day to day complaints and all that we have to be thankful for. Living through a war is sobering enough, but seeing the abject poverty and state of the Iraqi people really puts things into perspective."

Kerry Sanders is a NBC News correspondent currently on assignment in Iraq.

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