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'The artillery has gone wild': New video shows Iraq invasion, 20 years ago

New video shot by Georgia soldiers shows anxious moments as troops fight in the Iraq War.

ATLANTA — When thousands of United States troops from Georgia’s Fort Stewart and Fort Benning invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, one was an Army specialist with a camcorder, Robert Ayres.

Ayres was an infantryman deployed at a makeshift camp in the Kuwaiti desert a few weeks earlier called Camp Pennsylvania.

As Army troops ramped up to cross the nearby Iraqi border, he trained his camcorder on some of his comrades-in-arms. 

“Everybody’s getting ready now for war, as we speak,” one man is seen saying. He was inside a Bradley fighting vehicle moments after President George W. Bush ordered the invasion.

“I’m ready to go. Let’s go. Let’s get this stuff done, over with,” another said, expressing hope widely held among soldiers that the invasion would conclude quickly.

The video shows artillery firing – mostly from the allied forces, into Iraq.

“The artillery has gone wild,” a soldier says.

“As soon as he gave the order, they were firing. We were firing,” recalled Johnny Grimes of Gwinnett County.  “It didn’t end well for them.”

Grimes was 22, a communications specialist assigned to roll in a Bradley – as was his buddy, Brandon Watts.

“Yeah. Stuck in a Bradley. And the periscopes were fogged out, the sand, you couldn’t see anything,” Watts recalled this week.  “So you’re in this tin can, waiting for the ramp to drop.”

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When the ramp of a Bradley drops, troops emerge in what they call "battle rattle."

“We are in Iraq,” a soldier says matter-of-factly in the video. “Enemy is all around us somewhere.”

In the invasion’s early days, some Iraqis walked up to their convoy to surrender.

“Here we are, we hadn’t seen anything yet,” Watts said. “We’re in a berm, a little pit in the desert and they’re coming out in the road to surrender.”

Watts says the first days of the invasion were comparatively quiet – until they got to the Euphrates River and then the airport at Baghdad. 

A firefight broke out. 

“When that first round went off and hit that truck, I was looking right at it,” Grimes recalled. “And it turned night to day instantly.”

It was deadly and at times, grisly. The convoy had stopped and the war got frightening.

“That one was close and personal, the airport. It was all within fifty yards. It was different animal,” Watts said.

Watts and Grimes were on hand when a large statue of Saddam Hussein toppled.  At that early moment in the war, it seemed prematurely that the invasion had succeeded.  “Into the city. We thought the war was over. We celebrated. We’ve won the war. We’re eating ice cream,” Watts chuckled.”

“When we got in there, the people of Iraq didn't hate us. it was different. I thought they would hate us but they didn't,” Grimes said. “They didn't start hating us until we stayed.”

The US stayed for more than eight years.  After Iraqi insurgents started using roadside bombs – improvised explosive devices or IEDs -- Watts and Grimes say the war become much more dangerous.  Watts says the war succeeded when allied forces captured Iraqi’s dictator Saddam Hussein.

“I believed Saddam had to go. The Iraqis could build whatever they want. But he had to go. And he went,” Watts said. 

But Grimes says every time Americans killed Iraqis, they made more enemies. It went on from that spring of 2003 to December 2011.

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