(Reuters) - In the summer of 2004, U.S. soldier Greg Walker drove to a checkpoint just outside of Baghdad's Green Zone with his Kurdish bodyguard, Azaz. When he stepped out of his SUV, three Iraqi guards turned him around at gunpoint.

As he walked back to the vehicle, he heard an AK-47 being racked and a hail of cursing in Arabic and Kurdish. He turned to see Azaz facing off with the Iraqis.

"Let us through or I'll kill you all," Walker recalled his Kurdish bodyguard telling the Iraqi soldiers, who he described as "terrified."

He thought to himself: "This is the kind of ally and friend I want."

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NASA photo by Robert Markowitz

NASA announced June 7 that it has selected a new class of 12 astronaut candidates and seven of them have served in the U.S. military. After receiving 18,300 applications, NASA narrowed the list down, and these men and women will join the elite ranks of only 338 former astronauts in U.S. history.

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