Ten years later, Iraq war vet is working in Afghanistan



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Posted on March 20, 2013 at 9:56 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 9:31 AM

In 2003, Rachel Fox was a newly-minted Marine 2nd Lieutenant, one of hundreds of Marines Doug Burgess and I lived with for five weeks during March and April of 2003.

Today, she is Capt. Rachel Fox in the Marine reserves. She counts herself lucky that she survived the Gulf War safely.

But there is no doubt it drastically shaped her life.

"When you're in a combat zone, it's all about business. It's all about the job, everything is here and now," she said. "If someone gets injured or wounded — or killed — it's just kind of in that moment."

Those moments, of course, added up.

"I think it changed us, and it took a few years to try and process all of our experiences," she said. "I'm definitely not the same person that I used to be."

Fox, 36, is from Seattle, where she went to the University of Washington. Her unit in Iraq was a supply company, tasked with keeping combat troops replenished as they moved up the spine of the country.

After a year-and-a-half in Iraq, Fox received a new assignment, which in many ways was more difficult than the war itself.

It was a Wounded Warrior unit, where her job was helping injured Marines and their families adjust to their new lives.

As difficult as it was to see Marines whose lives would never be the same, she said it was equally difficult watching their families cope.

"I don't think the public understands the burden that ends up being put on the family members," she said.

Spouses of wounded warriors have to give up jobs, education, and — in some cases — normal life to care for their wounded loved one.

"It changes their lives forever, immensely," Fox said. "It's immensely difficult, especially with the more traumatic injuries."

Like many Marines, Rachel Fox was yearning to be back in Iraq with her comrades.

"When I left Iraq, I always felt guilty because I never was able to return," she said. "So when I had the opportunity to go to Afghanistan, I jumped on it."

She went to Afghanistan and stayed as long as her duties kept her there.

When cutbacks brought a reduction in force in the Marines, she found a way to stay in the country. Now she works as a civilian contractor for the British Foreign Office in Helmand province, one of the least stable places in the country. Her fellow Marines work beside her.

Fox's daily job is dealing with Afghan provisional leaders, helping them stabilize their country by building infrastructure. The lesson she's learned is that war may be easier than what follows.

"The first part is relatively easy... the kinetics, the fighting. That part we can do really well, especially Americans," she said, sounding less like a Marine than a diplomat. "It's the follow-on, the nation-building — and I know how people hate that word — that's really difficult. We achieved so much success in the beginning, and we get really bogged down."

Fox said Americans don't realize how much Afghans and Iraqis appreciate the efforts the U.S. has made on their behalf.

Like many Marines, her training affects her outlook on what she sees in Afghanistan now as much as her experiences in Iraq a decade ago.

"In the Marine Corps, we say it's all those tough experiences that build character. Unfortunately, the cost is sometimes high," she said. "You have to go through these bad experiences, but I think if, in the end, you can make it through, it makes you a better person."

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com