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San Diegans reflect on 3rd anniversary of Iraq war

Today marks the third anniversary of the American Invasion of Iraq. San Diego's armed forces continue to play a significant role in the ongoing struggle. The duration of the war, and the fact there's no end in sight, is taking its toll on supporters here on the home front. KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson has the story.

At Mary's Family Restaurant on Oceanside's main drag, resident Bonnie Bove works the word puzzle in a newspaper and finishes up her lunch.

Bove: "I still support the war. It would have been nice if we didn't have to do it. But I still support what we're doing."

American flags still decorate the sidewalks here and big We Support Our Troops signs still hang outside businesses. But Oceanside's unequivocal approval is becoming strained.

Recent opinion polls show the majority of Americans think the United States is losing ground in Iraq and are doubtful the U.S. will ever establish a stable democracy there. And that doubt is becoming more and more evident.

Around the corner from Mary's Restaurant, at the Esquire Barber Shop, barber William Palomo says he's seen support for the military effort dwindle among his customers, even here in the epicenter of military proud San Diego County.

Palomo: "I think they're not as patriotic as they were at first."

He says everyone still supports the troops, but you hear little remarks about the administration and duration of the war that you didn't even a year ago.

Get further from the Marine's backyard - and talk to the parents of servicemen - and you hear all out exasperation.

Kahlor: "Why are we over there now? That's my biggest question for Bush, why are we over there? And why is none of your family over there? It is really easy to promote a war when you don't have anybody involved."

That's Tim Kahlor whose son Ryan is on his second deployment with the Army's First Armored Division. Kahlor lives in Temecula and works as a payroll coordinator at UCSD.

His story, and his son's story, is not unusual. He says Ryan signed up for the Army freshman year of college because recruiters offered the chance to live in Europe. He never expected Ryan to go into the military but he says his son always loved an adventure.

He finally left the day the war began in 2003.

Kahlor says he and his wife took solace in thinking the war would be over by the time Ryan finished basic training.

But they were wrong. Kahlor says thinking about Ryan being there plagues him everyday.

Kahlor: "I don't think people understand that this is 24/7 for the soldiers and for the families, too. You want to switch places with your kid. You want to get your kid home. You see em play tee ball and do all these things growing up and then suddenly they're on the other side of the world and you can't get to em."

The armed forces in Iraq not only lack parental protection. A secret Department of Defense study revealed they're also missing lifesaving body armor. According to the report, a $260 set of armor could have prevented 80-percent of the deaths of marines and soldiers killed by upper body wounds. By the end of last year, just 10-percent of the 28,000 sets of armor on order had been delivered.

Parents like Kahlor were shocked. Kahlor says when he complained about the problem, Senators Feinstein and Boxer sent him form letters and directions to get reimbursed for buying supplies out of his own pocket.

Kahlor started questioning all aspects of the war in Iraq. He started looking at connections like Cheney and Halliburton and realized people are getting rich off the war while his son doesn't even have q-tips to clean the sand out of his gun.

Kahlor: "And over time, I just feel like we were lied to And that we have no business over there. I just feel these men and women need to be home."

No end to the war is in sight. Sectarian violence in Iraq is raging. Many believe the country is on the brink of civil war. President Bush, whose approval rating has dropped below forty percent, has not offered much hope for improvement. Instead he says America should expect more struggle, more tough fighting and more images of chaos in the months to come.

Kahlor says the war is taking a toll on young American soldiers. He recalls Ryan's first week at war when Ryan said his friend was killed by an improvised explosive device. And Ryan saw and Iraqi man get his throat slit while kids played soccer around him.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, Kahlor says he, his wife and his son cling to a lifeline of what could be a last letter or a final phone call.

Kahlor: "First saved message Hi, Dad. Just want to say what's going on. Tried to get a hold of you at home but couldn't. Just want o say I love you and you mean the world to me, Dad. I couldn't have made this, everything in life without you. I don't know. I'll try to see you guys in September when they give me leave. If not, I'll see you when I see you. Love you guys. Bye."

Kahlor: "And I remember I got an email from him and I watched this kid go from a 19 year old...sorry excuse me and we watched his whole demeanor telling Mom, Dad, I love you so much. Apologizing for everything he's ever done wrong in his life."

And Kahlor says the war is taking a toll on him and his wife, too. And Ryan knows and worries. The last time Ryan was home, he said he was struck by how quickly his parents seemed to age. Amy Isackson, KPBS News.

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