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Peoria-born Iraq War veteran captures the experiences of a citizen soldier in his new book

 Dr. Robert Elliott
Tim Shelley
Dr. Robert Elliott

As the United States passes the 20th anniversary marking the start of the war in Iraq, a Peoria native is collecting his personal wartime experiences into a book.

Dr. Robert Elliott is author of Citizen Soldier: From the Land of Lincoln to Iraq and Back.

Like many volunteers of that era, Elliott said the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are what inspired him to step up. That meant the 39-year-old Illinois Army National Guard member would need to take a hiatus from his career with the Illinois State Police. He also needed to talk it over with his wife and three kids.

"It was kind of an uncomfortable conversation about, they're looking for people to volunteer for this unit that's going to replace the ones that started in 2003," Elliott said in a recent interview. "They needed to replace them, a small unit. And we decided — that wasn't unanimous — that I could throw my hat in the ring."

Elliott left on July 4, 2004 for a one year tour of duty. He wanted to do something, but he said it was admittedly a tough decision.

"There's this tension below the surface that I couldn't deny, that, did I make the right decision? I knew that it was a place where not everybody survived or came back. And so I was taking a risk not just on myself, but on my family's future," he said.

Elliott kept a journal during his tour of duty that helped form the basis of his book, nearly two decades later.

"The journal was a way, I think, looking back, a coping mechanism, that, you know, I will never probably be here in this place in the world again, and I wanted to document it even in short snippets of what transpired," he said.

Elliott said he was compelled to write a book because most accounts of conflicts are written by generals, snipers, or Special Forces. He wanted to write from the perspective of an ordinary person serving in the National Guard who was deployed overseas.

"We don't pick and choose where we go. It's not like planning a vacation," he said. "Hindsight is 20/20. We really look back and want to have made a difference. And so I think some folks will look back and say, 'Hmm, I wonder if we made a difference.' Others will have stronger opinions one way or the other."

For his part, Elliott said he believes his team did make a difference for individuals in Iraq, through distributing water and other supplies to kids.

"I know that in the long run, the families realize that those that choose or go, in whatever capacity, that they're trying to do something to improve our world," he said.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.