STATESVILLE, N.C. - Tears fell from John Gallina's eyes as he thought about the current crisis in Iraq and the sacrifices he, fellow guardsman Dale Beatty and thousands of service members made for more than a decade to bring democracy to the country.
"Whether you returned home injured or lost a man to your left or right, there's a certain amount of connectedness," Gallina said.
Both men were seriously injured while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 when their Humvee hit an anti-tank mine.
They worked to provide security patrols in cities and towns near their base in northern Iraq where they built bonds with Iraqi people.
"While we were there it was there. It was apparent they didn't want to live in violence and fear the same as we don't want to here," Beatty said.
Many of those families are now fleeing to escape violence as a group of Islamic militants, known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, continue to take control over parts of the country by deadly force.
"It's hard to place democracy in the middle of a religious conflict. It doesn't fit very well," said Beatty.
The United States is beefing up its presence and firepower in the region as leaders decide what action to take.
President Barack Obama has said he won't send troops. These veterans support that decision and would like to see an international show of support for Iraqi troops as they fight to preserve the freedoms so many have sacrificed for.
"We planted a seed of democracy. Who's it going to grow in? Who is going to stand up and say we want this?" Gallina said.
Read more trending stories on wsoctv.com: