One-and-a-half million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not one of them came home unchanged.
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.|
Sean HuzeAGE32HOMETOWNBaton Rouge, LouisianaBRANCHMarine Corps/InfantryCURRENT OCCUPATIONActor and artistic director for the Vet Stage FoundationNOTABLE SERVICEMarch, 2003, initial invasion of IraqENLISTEDSeptember 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.
|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.|
Josh HennigerAGE25HOMETOWNSan Clemente, CaliforniaBRANCHMarine Corps (pre-Iraqi Occupation); Army (Iraq)/SergeantCURRENT OCCUPATIONStudentNOTABLE SERVICEWounded in Iraq, 2005ENLISTEDat 17, on a whim
|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.|
Megan O'ConnorAGE31HOMETOWNVenice, CaliforniaBRANCHArmy National Guard/Medical Service Corps Officer/CaptainCURRENT OCCUPATIONGraduate student of Chinese medicine, Yo San UniversityNOTABLE SERVICE50th Main Support Battalion of the New Jersey Army National Guard in Tikrit and RamadiENLISTEDat 19 to pay for college
|When anyone goes to a war zone, they don't come back the same person.|
George RobertAGE26HOMETOWNEast Los Angeles, CaliforniaBRANCHArmyCURRENT OCCUPATIONConstruction workerNOTABLE SERVICEServed 14 consecutive months in IraqENLISTEDat 17 to get insurance for his child
|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.|
Bryant ElderAGE35HOMETOWNPasadena, CaliforniaBRANCHMarine Corps; Army National Guard/Staff SergeantCURRENT OCCUPATIONPediatrics nurseNOTABLE SERVICEIstanbul, Turkey; Portugal; Spain; Australia; IraqENLISTEDat 18 so that he could travel.
|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.|
Baldwin YenAGE28HOMETOWNAtherton, CaliforniaBRANCHArmy Reserve/Forty-Six Romero (Broadcast Journalist)CURRENT OCCUPATIONVideo-game programmerNOTABLE SERVICEPart of the American Forces Network, a military broadcast networkENLISTEDat 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.|
Paul McQuiggAGE30HOMETOWNWestern Springs, IllinoisBRANCHMarine Corps/Amphibious Assault Crewman, Vehicle CommanderCURRENT OCCUPATIONOn third enlistment; student of criminal justice and general studiesNOTABLE SERVICEWounded in Iraq, 2006ENLISTEDat 20, having wanted to since age 12
|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.|
Nicholas RockAGE27HOMETOWNWarwick, Rhode IslandBRANCHArmy/Staff SergeantCURRENT OCCUPATIONMFA student, graphic design, YaleNOTABLE SERVICEHelped reconstruct roads and schools in a Kurdish communityENLISTEDat 19 out of a sense of duty and to pay for school
|You sort of have to believe that what you're doing is the right thing.|
Mariel SosaAGE26HOMETOWNBrooklyn, New YorkBRANCHArmy/E4 specialistCURRENT OCCUPATIONGraduate student, social work, NYUNOTABLE SERVICEIraq from March, 2004, to October, 2005ENLISTEDat 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.|
Phillip CarterAGE31HOMETOWNSanta Monica, CaliforniaBRANCHArmy/CaptainCURRENT OCCUPATIONAttorneyNOTABLE SERVICEServed in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 with the Army's 101st Airborne DivisionENLISTEDon ROTC scholarship at UCLA
|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.|
Herold NoelAGE27HOMETOWNBrooklyn, New YorkBRANCHArmy/Private First Class, 3rd Infantry DivisionCURRENT OCCUPATIONPromoting When I Came Home, the award-winning documentary about the homelessness he endured after returning from serviceNOTABLE SERVICEFueler during the March, 2003, invasionENLISTEDat 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.|