U.S. Marines who fought long and bloody battles to drive insurgents out of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah watched with disappointment as the cities fell to the self-described Islamic State.
“We put in so much work as far as what we did over there. So many people got hurt, so many people lost their lives,” said Marine Staff Sergeant Alex Reyes, who led troops in combat there.
He saw the news of Ramadi’s fall on a buddy’s Facebook page.
“We were surprised when everything turned around for the better," he said - referring to 2008, when control was returned to the Iraqi Army - "and then probably even more surprised that it just went back to bad hands."
Tens of thousands of U.S. troops were stationed there during the American occupation of Iraq.
Marine Major John Costello spent a year in Ramadi training and advising a battalion of Iraqi troops. He said his job was to teach them the skills they needed to operate independently of American assistance - but most times, he ended up fighting right alongside his Iraqi trainees in nearly non-stop combat.
“We fought every day. It was dangerous. It was very dangerous. I thought it was the worst conditions imaginable, ” Costello said.
Having already served a combat tour in Afghanistan, Major Costello added: “I thought it was the most dangerous place on the planet when I was there."