Kellie Merritt became Australia’s first Iraq service widow nine years ago. Her husband Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel was killed when the British Hercules he was on crashed in Iraq in January 2005.
Paul spent 14 years with the Royal Australian Air Force but the family decided to move to the United Kingdom where Paul would fly with the Royal Air Force. It was a decision that would change their young family forever.
“A friend of mine walked into the house and she said 'there’s been a crash',” Kellie said.
“I decided that I would tell the children because they were already asking questions. I had to tell them that maybe Daddy had died. It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”
Kellie now lobbies for government transparency in how Australia goes to war with the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry.
“I think the way we go to war, or the processes are flawed as it stands within the Australian democratic process."
She said Australia’s political leaders should carefully consider other options besides military combat in Iraq.
“The current situation in Iraq is tremendously complex and I don’t have the answers,” she said.
“I think the way we go to war, or the processes are flawed as it stands within the Australian democratic process.
“Time and time again it’s been counterproductive meddling in the Middle East and that’s not to diminish the atrocities or downplay the terrible situation,” Kellie said.
For 29-year-old Isaac Rubio, joining the army was a natural progression after the September 11 attacks in New York.
“I was always sort of drawn towards joining the army, I liked the idea of being part of something bigger.
“I thought they were fighting the good fight and I wanted to help out,” he said.
“I think the problem with Western countries is that we try and put a template of how life is [in Australia] onto countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. “How can you help a country that is fighting with itself?”
Serving in Baghdad he faced a tense environment while looking after diplomats in the Green Zone during his deployment in 2005.
Isaac was also deployed to Afghanistan, where his best friend Private Benjamin Ranaudo died in 2009. This would become the catalyst for Isaac to leave the military.
“Ben’s death changed the way I thought about our trip, it was definitely a wakeup call for me,” said Isaac.
“It changed the way I thought about a lot of things, it was like a switch went off.”
Now living and working in Townsville, Isaac said the decision to send troops to Iraq again is complex.
“I think the problem with Western countries is that we try and put a template of how life is [in Australia] onto countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“How can you help a country that is fighting with itself?” he said. "If we got rid of ISIS I think that someone else would just take their place."
“We do have an obligation to help Iraq, but I don’t think putting our guys on the ground is going to change anything,” said Isaac.
“We do have an obligation to help Iraq, but I don’t think putting our guys on the ground is going to change anything.”
Other veterans see things differently.
Brisbane-based, father of three Matthew left the army after two tours of Iraq as a craftsman because he was missing out on seeing his daughter grow up.
But he said if given the chance he’d probably go back.
“You always have that sort of strong sense of patriotism where you do want to do something right,” said Matt.
“I do feel some need, like an urge that I want to do something about it.”
The 35-year-old said ground troops are the only way to combat an enemy like IS.
“Definitely we need some sort of boots on the ground. No war, no anything has ever been won from the air.”