The statistics are shocking:
more than 11,000 soldiers have been wounded by roadside bombs; more than 50,000 have sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder; and 150,000 have submitted a claim for disability. Undiagnosed brain injuries-serious concussions that can cause memory loss, vision problems, and even depression-are affecting as many as 300,000 troops who have come home.But when you look at the numbers, it's easy to forget that they represent individual stories: lives put on hold, families under strain-above all, tremendous personal sacrifice. As the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, I have had the honor and privilege of working with thousands of these heroes, helping many of them to tell their stories and rebuild their lives. In this photo series, I'm happy to introduce just a few of them.
|For the many Americans for whom the Iraq War has required little or no personal commitment, and especially for the politicians in Washington...these photos and stories should be required viewing.|
I've found that the faces of the troops tell us the most about the war. Their eyes reflect their pride in their service, pain at the loss of friends, and the memories that linger long after they return home. In a way the numbers simply can't, the faces of combat veterans bring the reality of a distant war home. That's why images like these are so important; they remind us that "the troops" aren't some abstraction to be supported by a bumper sticker or a catchphrase. The troops are America's sons and daughters, a diverse group, coming from all parts of the country and every walk of life.In the next few pages, you'll see photos of some of these heroes-a successful lawyer who left his practice to train the Iraqi police force, an activist who ended up homeless only months after driving fuel trucks in Iraq, an actor who put his career on hold to join the Marines after 9/11.These pictures show you the diversity of today's veterans-but they also suggest what they have in common. These veterans have stories that must be heard. The best reporting from the war in Iraq has come from the troops themselves-the people who saw it first-hand. Their raw, uncensored stories are simply the best way to understand what's actually happening on the ground in Iraq, and the difficult choices that lay ahead for us all.For the many Americans for whom the Iraq War has required little or no personal commitment, and especially for the politicians in Washington whose choices affect the lives of our troops every day, these photos and stories should be required viewing.
Baton Rouge, LouisianaBRANCH
Marine Corps/InfantryCURRENT OCCUPATION
Actor and artistic director for the Vet Stage FoundationNOTABLE SERVICE
March, 2003, initial invasion of IraqENLISTED
September 12, 2001My father
was pretty upset [when I enlisted]. I was in L.A., pursuing an acting career. I had a few credits, had my SAG card, had an agent. As a father now, I can understand not wanting your child to do something that puts him in harm's way. The military was a good experience for me. But it's not anything that I would want my child to do.
Take any decision
|If you had told me on September 10th that I was going to be in a recruiter's office 48 hours later, I would have told you to pass it my way; I would have said somebody was delusional.|
that we've ever made in life. If you had the benefit of hindsight, would you do it again? I don't know. Having served in Iraq gives me the opportunity to do what I do now: really communicate things creatively and artistically. I work with other veterans to help them do the same. And I'm serving my country more now than I ever did in uniform.
San Clemente, CaliforniaBRANCH
Marine Corps (pre-Iraqi Occupation); Army (Iraq)/SergeantCURRENT OCCUPATION
Wounded in Iraq, 2005ENLISTED
at 17, on a whim
I was wounded
|I'd just come out of the Marine Corps and 9/11 happened. Like everybody else, I wanted to go back now that there was a war on.|
in action in December of 2005 [in Iraq] by an enemy mortar round. I was bitter about getting wounded and seeing my soldiers die. Eventually you have to move on because you just realize that if you're pissed off all the time it's not good for you.It changes
everything about you when you go to combat. I guess I have more of a sense of clarity and purpose in life now. I value and respect life a lot more now than I used to.
Army National Guard/Medical Service Corps Officer/CaptainCURRENT OCCUPATION
Graduate student of Chinese medicine, Yo San UniversityNOTABLE SERVICE
50th Main Support Battalion of the New Jersey Army National Guard in Tikrit and RamadiENLISTED
at 19 to pay for college
|When anyone goes to a war zone, they don't come back the same person.|
the camaraderie of the National Guard, and the ability to serve my country while doing something that was meaningful and powerful. It wasn't what I was all about, it was just a little part of me.It's hard
to come back. I think there are so many people that are appreciative of the service of veterans, but there are also so many people that live their lives not realizing the magnitude of the sacrifice.
East Los Angeles, CaliforniaBRANCH
Construction workerNOTABLE SERVICE
Served 14 consecutive months in IraqENLISTED
at 17 to get insurance for his child
Going to Iraq
|You get back here and people just want to talk about [whether] you think Bush is doing the right thing. And they start hounding you instead of just leaving you alone. We don't really want to talk about it if we're not there anymore.|
was scary at first. And then you know, the military kicks in, and you think about everything that you've learned and it's time to go.I don't see
my role in America any differently than before I left. I knew what I was signing up for. They called me up and I went. I'm more grateful for the things that we do have, being over there and seeing what they have over there-really nothing-then coming over here and seeing how much we take for granted.
Marine Corps; Army National Guard/Staff SergeantCURRENT OCCUPATION
Pediatrics nurseNOTABLE SERVICE
Istanbul, Turkey; Portugal; Spain; Australia; IraqENLISTED
at 18 so that he could travel.
There is an
|Now that I served over in Iraq, I see America in a whole different light. I see my role differently too: to encourage young kids coming out of high school to go to college and try and use the military as a last resort.|
old Marine Corps reserve center right next to our high school. So the Marine Corps recruiters were always there after basketball practice. So … you know.My mother
didn't like it when I first joined, but my dad and two of his brothers served in the Air Force, so he was pleased with it.The military
is selling a lot of educational programs and giving a lot of bonuses away. So you've got more kids coming in now for the college money, but they don't know that you're going to do a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. There's no way around it.
Army Reserve/Forty-Six Romero (Broadcast Journalist)CURRENT OCCUPATION
Video-game programmerNOTABLE SERVICE
Part of the American Forces Network, a military broadcast networkENLISTED
at 19 to fulfill a childhood dreamI tried to
enlist when I was 17, but, of course, at that point I needed my parents' permission. I kept asking them, the good Asian child that I am. When I was 19, I finally managed to enlist with their blessing. My mom decided to see a fortune teller, and he said I'd be all right.My job
[was] sort of like what you see in Good Morning Vietnam
or Full Metal Jacket
. Going on raids in the middle of the night, or searching a village for weapons was appealing to me, it let me pretend I was in combat arms for a short bit.
|I got access that the civilian media wouldn't. How often do you see the story where the soldier is doing the good thing? We did that a lot over there.|
really takes notice and no one else really stops moving when you're out there. You go out, everyone's life changes; you come back, and things are different.As much as
America disappoints me at times, and as much as there are things that I find extremely disagreeable, or I just may not approve of, I still think that America is a great country. And if I had to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.
Western Springs, IllinoisBRANCH
Marine Corps/Amphibious Assault Crewman, Vehicle CommanderCURRENT OCCUPATION
On third enlistment; student of criminal justice and general studiesNOTABLE SERVICE
Wounded in Iraq, 2006ENLISTED
at 20, having wanted to since age 12
On my father's
|I was out on patrol on a mission with my marines and my vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. I'm still in the recovery phase, and this is where you see me right now.|
side, I can trace my family history [of military service] back to the Civil War, on the side ofthe Union.It's hard
to take night classes in the middle of Iraq, trying to write a term paper while you're taking fire from some AK-47.
Warwick, Rhode IslandBRANCH
Army/Staff SergeantCURRENT OCCUPATION
MFA student, graphic design, YaleNOTABLE SERVICE
Helped reconstruct roads and schools in a Kurdish communityENLISTED
at 19 out of a sense of duty and to pay for school
You're told to
|You sort of have to believe that what you're doing is the right thing.|
go to war and you expect a certain thing and I think that I had actually a pretty amazing experience in just helping people. I didn't have to do a lot of fighting, which everybody else was doing.My political
views changed as the war went on, the more we learned about what was actually happening. I'm a little bit torn still because I feel like what we were doing for the Kurdish people was actually a good thing. I feel like we still owe it to them not to leave it a mess over there. But I completely disagree with this whole political situation.
Brooklyn, New YorkBRANCH
Army/E4 specialistCURRENT OCCUPATION
Graduate student, social work, NYUNOTABLE SERVICE
Iraq from March, 2004, to October, 2005ENLISTED
at 21 to pay student loansThe first time
I went to Iraq was beyond anything I could have imagined. We were roughing it, burning feces [to keep living areas sanitary] and just not really having enough food. We ran out of water. It was really tough.I'm trying to
fill a void by not leaving anyone; letting people know that there are people out there that care and that we respect the fact that they have given part of their life to a cause.
|I think everyone should at least do basic training.|
in Iraq, I care more now. I just care more. I want to vote. Policies that are being enforced matter to me, where before I didn't care.
Santa Monica, CaliforniaBRANCH
Served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 with the Army's 101st Airborne DivisionENLISTED
on ROTC scholarship at UCLA
At least back
|Iraq is a very complex place. I'm still optimistic, but at this point, I worry that even if we put our best efforts forward, it may notbe enough.|
as far as my grandfather, all the men in my family have served.I might go
back to Iraq at some point, maybe as a writer or a consultant for the State Department.If I could
do it over again, I'd absolutely join. It was a very tough experience, but I feel like I got a lot more out of the Army than they got out of me. I would recommend it to others, but you have to know that if you sign up today you're going to war.After my service
I see everything through a different lens. I focus a lot more on the human element of questions, like whether we should go to war.
Brooklyn, New YorkBRANCH
Army/Private First Class, 3rd Infantry DivisionCURRENT OCCUPATION
Promoting When I Came Home
, the award-winning documentary about the homelessness he endured after returning from serviceNOTABLE SERVICE
Fueler during the March, 2003, invasionENLISTED
at 19 for a better way of life
|My experience in Iraq was basically horrifying. [The fuel truck] was basically like driving a bomb. It was the worst thing you could think about.|
objective for being over there-and for the guys I was around in my unit-was to watch each other's back, making sure they came back home alive to see their kids.The documentary When I Came Home
is about my situation after I came back from Iraq: I was homeless for about eight months. There's no transitional housing for soldiers coming back home from lower [income] communities. They don't come back better than they left off, they come back worse.My view of
America hasn't changed, it's my view of people in America that's changed. I love America, that's my home. I fought for it. America is more mine than anybody in this room, more than the President, cause I fought, I shed blood, I saw my friends get hurt, lose limbs, for this freakin' country. I came back-I'm alive, you know-and the system that I fought for didn't want to fight for me.My role in
America is to fight for vets. Take a look at your life, ask yourself what a soldier means to you.