Baghdad al-Jadida

In theŚ summers of 2007 and 2008, I spent two months in Iraq embedded with the 2/69 Combined Arms Battalion. This is a group of approximately 500 soldiers whomŚ I'dŚ photographed andŚ interviewed forŚ over two yearsŚ (SeeŚ <em>Gray Land: Soldiers on War</em>). When I arrived at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah on the eastern edge of Baghdad,Ś the battalion had been deployed for three months. This was the second deployment for over half of these soldiers, and the third deployment for many.... The soldiers of the 2/69 areŚ wereŚ responsible for a large urban area, covering Baghdad al-Jadida ("New Baghdad"). TheyŚ ranŚ both mounted and dismounted patrols,Ś advisedŚ Iraqi army and police units, andŚ workedŚ closely with the District Action Councils -- local organizations overseeing neighborhood security and welfare. TheyŚ hadŚ to be warriors, politicians, civil engineers, social workers, economists, and whatever elseŚ wasŚ called for in their area of operations. The issue as to whatŚ we wereŚ doing in Iraq, or whetherŚ we wereŚ being at all successful, wasŚ moot. TheyŚ wentŚ whereŚ they wereŚ sent,Ś didŚ whatŚ they wereŚ told, andŚ triedŚ to make the best possible job of it.... The battalion lost three men the day before I got there. I photographed and spoke with their company commander a week later, and realized something I hadn't before, despite all of my interviews. He knew these men intimately -- knew them more closely than family. When the rest of us suffer this kind of loss, we take time for ourselves. Soldiers don't have the luxury of a day off. They go back out the next day -- usually performing two 4-6 hour patrols, under constant stress. The weather is extreme -- between 110-120 deg F, and these men and woman carry over 70 lbs of gear and weaponry. I near about died wearing just a helmet, body armor and carrying a camera. I still don't entirely know how they do it.