Oscar Barreto lives in Simi Valley in a second-floor apartment with his wife and three kids.
Barreto was an Army specialist, part of a unit that patrolled the streets of Bagdhad and specially trained to look for chemical weapons. He tried to build ties with civilians, often using hand gestures to communicate.
"We’d rub the belly to show that we were giving them food," said Barreto. "And then we’d give them water. Some people we gave them some food and clothing."
All the while, Baretto thought about home. He said his first son was born days after he arrived in Iraq.
"And I was full of joy and kind of sad, and that gave me the boost to last through the whole war."
But he was never sure if he was going to make it. He was not alone. The war exposed many service members to violence, regardless of whether they were combat troops.
"It's really an urban warfare, and everybody has some level of exposure," Baretto said.
Patricia Lester is a UCLA psychiatrist who works with Iraq War veterans and their families. She said this type of warfare -- plus multiple deployments and the use of improvised explosive devices -- has contributed to high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-9/11 veterans have a PTSD rate as high as 19 percent.
"Then when you combine the numbers of traumatic brain injury," Lester said. "It's probably upward of 30 percent of folks coming back from their combat experiences with really invisible wounds of war."
Bobby Yen vividly remembers his war experiences. The UCLA graduate was part of the first wave of troops to occupy Iraq as a member of the Army Reserves.
"You're asleep, and there's a mortar attack, and then you go back to sleep, and you pull your armor on top of yourself," Yen said. "You adapt. If you don't adapt then you lose it a bit."
Yen was embedded as a military journalist with the troops. He observed how soldiers' attitudes evolved during his year in Iraq.
"In the beginning," said Yen, "Everybody was hard-charging and motivated, and they thought, 'We'll find the weapons of mass destruction.'"
But as time wore on, morale took a hit, Yen said. Soldiers began to question the basis for going to war in search of WMDs -- for instance, questions arose when they were no longer asked to bring their masks with them on patrols. Even historic moments did little to boost spirits, according to Yen.
"We're allowing them to have their own election. Now they're writing their own constitution. Now we captured is Saddam," he said. "This, that and and the other. This is when something good will change and happen. But after a while, like the threat of death, you start getting inured to it all, and you just start thinking about going home."
Yen returned stateside in 2004 and left the Army Reserves to resume a career working in video game design. He now works out of an airy, modern house in Hollywood that he shares with his girlfriend, a cat and a dog.
But the return to civilian life has not gone as smoothly for many other veterans. Veterans have higher rates of unemployment than the general population.
Jason Hansman of the non-profit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the unemployment rate for veterans in January 2013 was 11.7 perent, while the national rate was 7.9 percent. Hansman says former military members sometimes have trouble selling their skills to civilian employers.
"You get discipline, you get responsibility, you get leadership in a lot of these vets," Hansman said. "And I don't think the civilian population has really made that connection yet."
Other veterans struggle to find jobs because of disabilities. But they often can't get the help they need from the government. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process their claims.
With those kinds of numbers, Hansman said he worries some veterans might not be getting the right care, which could lead to depression and possibly suicide.
"The suicide rate is still high," Hansman said. "Much higher than certainly people that are dying in Afghanistan due to combat. In January, the Army alone reported 33 potential suicides among active duty and reserve, that is far too high."
Oscar Baretto recognizes that he still struggles with war trauma. He said he feels fortunate that he has been able to see a VA counselor to talk about his recurring nightmares.
"I'm going through a reenactment," Baretto said about his dreams. "Like it's happening all over again. Are we getting attacked? Or I see bodies. Or I see blood."
"He would sit up in his bed and start socking the air," said Baretto's wife Jennifer. "And sometimes [he would] just start talking or mumbling stuff or to kill something."
Baretto said he is still glad he served in Iraq. The way he sees it, he said, troops toppled a ruthless dictator and made life better for the Iraqis.
"They have the same aspirations as we do. I want a house. And I want to live life abundantly."
He said he is trying. He has a clerical job at Los Angeles County Child Protective Services, a loving wife, children and this news:
"We have another one coming,” said Baretto.
Another boy due in June. Baretto said that this tie, he'll definitely be there.