Now 42, former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, of San Antonio, said the start of the Iraq War 10 years ago also marks a milestone in his life.
After the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad on March 19, 2003, Alva lost his right leg the next day three hours after arriving in the country.
He was among the first wounded in the war.
Alva said he stepped on a landmine as he and his platoon got out of their vehicle. He said the blast also shattered his right arm, and more than 40 pieces of shrapnel remain his body.
"There's probably not one day that I don't think of Iraq," Alva said.
He said he's not been able to sleep now that the anniversary is upon him.
"A lot of reflection. I'm thinking about people and friends I've known," Alva said.
Alva said he is among the fortunate to be alive after the Iraq War ended in 2011, unlike so many others.
"I think of people who lost their sons and daughters," Alva said. "If I talk about it too much, I start to cry."
Alva said he believes he was given a second chance.
"That's why I did what I did," Alva said.
Alva later admitted he was gay and he helped repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The day it happened, Alva was instrumental enough that he stood by President Obama when he made it official.
"I had never seen a President sign a law," Alva said.
Alva said he will observe the Iraq War anniversary quietly with his parents and family, but uses social media to reminisce with other Marines.
Now a motivational speaker, Alva said, "I'm going to continue to help people as much as I can."