“I actually enlisted back in June 2000,” Chief Christopher Young has spent nearly half of his military career in what they call “the sandbox” which is the Middle East.

“Yes, I’ve spent way too much I’m ready to be done with deploying,” he laughs.

But, he says, things have changed for soldiers spending time there, specifically the ability to communicate with friends and family.

Young explains, “Internet has really improved but with that, technology has improved and you need a faster and faster Internet as you can tell.”

He’s seen the evolution of Iraq since he deployed during the initial invasion in 2003.

“Oh, night and day. It’s hard to compare anything to a full-on combat zone.”

Today, he says, American troops serve in more of a support role. “Just getting to a point where our overall footprint in the country is minimizing as we go on.”

Chief Young marvels at the progress the coalition has made in liberating Iraq and the resilience of the Iraqi people, cherishing their still-burgeoning democracy.

“The entire process hasn’t broken down to where it’s just warlords or dictators or to totalitarian style government…. The first Iraqi elections, which was an amazing experience to say I was in Baghdad, there was a very large voter turnout. One of the big things to verify who you are, everyone would get the purple fingerprint would get placed on your ballot so everyone was going around holding up their fingers showing they voted… and then to see it continue to go on even with that ongoing threat that’s here because of people who have a vested interest in Iraq not succeeding and democracy not succeeding so they will do whatever they can to deter voters and yet they Iraqi people still come out…. It’s hard to understand what kind of bravery goes in to show up for elections it’s not like you have to wait in line for a couple of hours and it’s going to get a little warm or you forgot a bottle of water it’s the true threats to your life.”