Operation Iraqi Freedom affected many Alabamians.
More than 7,000 troops from the Alabama National Guard were sent overseas.
10 years later, soldiers say the guard is stronger for it.
"I had a two week notice that I was going to deploy," says Command Chief Warrant Officer Max Dean.
He left in 2004 for a 15 month Iraq deployment and remembers scrambling to get ready to go.
"It really did not sink in until the deployment ceremony. We left and then it sorta, for my family is like, wow, this is a reality."
Real life for Dean was much different in Iraq.
He remembers constantly watching his back during special missions.
"Is there an IED there? Are there going to be rocket attacks, mortar attacks? And so you just constantly had that adrenaline flow."
"Alabama National Guard lost five soldiers during these operations in Iraq," says Colonel Dennis Butters.
The deaths rattled the guard. But Butters is thankful there weren't more.
"Not as high as some of the other casualties in some of the other states. We were very fortunate considering the number of deployments that we've had."
"It makes you more aware of your surroundings. And biggest thing...it makes me thankful for what we have," adds Dean.
Dean didn't hesitate in saying he'd go back if called. It's a duty he believes is his calling in life.
"It's compared to being on a football team. You practice day in and day out. And when game time comes you're ready to be there because that's what you do, and that's what you've been trained to do. It's the same with us."
The Alabama National Guard has programs in place and doctors on call for anyone needing assistance for depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
They even provide financial counselors and time off for soldiers upon their return.
The Alabama National Guard is the nation's 5th largest state guard.@
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