I don’t have many pictures of my first deployment, to Iraq in 2006 and 2007, which lasted (counting Kuwait) nearly 16 months. I got rid of most of them, just like I got rid of most of my letters from the time as well. I wasn’t worried about forgetting. The few pictures that I do have were saved on accident, hidden away in desktop files or Facebook albums and forgotten about.
Not that it matters much. The memories of my deployment as an infantryman with the 1-18th Infantry Regiment are too close to the surface as it is.
There were, of course, the larger machinations of the war happening around me: the sectarian violence in Baghdad, the surge, the Sunni Awakening. But my own experiences felt larger than life, too. I was part of a media scandal, I was married, I was hospitalized with typhoid, and I contracted MRSA. There aren’t any photos of that stuff left, but the few that do remain are evocative enough for me. They’re pictures of the smaller moments, mostly candid, that make up the bulk of any deployment. And really, those are the moments that I most want to keep.
These are the few photographs that survived.
Summer 2007. Our beautiful home on COP Ellis, just south of Baghdad International Airport but truly in the boonies compared to our operations inside of Baghdad proper. COP Ellis was as beautiful as it was comfortable.
Fall 2006. Jersey barrier art in Kuwait. Fitting that we depicted ourselves stacking on a building, since we’d go on to do so much of it during the deployment.
Winter 2006. Practicing different ways of moving a wounded soldier. We were always training, even when we were just hanging out as a squad. That’s me on the far left.
Winter 2006. A street in the West Rashid neighborhood of Baghdad. It was an area we patrolled often, and during times of intense sectarian conflict. There were always gaggles of children asking for chocolate or soccer balls.
Spring 2007. A neighborhood near FOB Falcon in Baghdad. One constant during this deployment was the wrecked infrastructure and the smell of ruptured sewer lines. We did what we could to help, but the infrastructure issues were beyond the ability of a bunch of grunts to solve.
Fall 2006. Members of 1st Platoon, A Co, 1-18 INF, eager to get out of Kuwait and into the fight. I’m on the left.
Spring 2007. A brief respite somewhere in the Green Zone. The ever-charismatic Sgt. Cunningham pontificates from on top of a Bradley. I’m the second mustache from the left, obviously not very impressed with what I’m hearing.