The Human Costs of War: Justin Miller’s Story

With the combat mission complete for the day, the soldiers loaded up into up-armored vehicles and readied for a return to the forward operating base to refit, rearm, and prepare for the next day’s mission. There was only one problem.

They forgot Private First Class Justin Miller.

The shocks groaned and engines screamed under the weight of the up-armored combat vehicles as the convoy sped off towards Camp Habbaniyah. From their perch atop the vehicles, the gunners scanned the road ahead and the rooftops to their sides, wary of an insurgent ambush or one of the seemingly ubiquitous roadside bombs. No one noticed Private Miller racing behind the patrol, trying to catch up.

That wasn’t the first time Justin felt abandoned.

When he was just seven years old, Justin watched helplessly as his dad went to prison. Soon after that, while in the fourth grade, his best friend Bruce died while handling his father’s unsecured firearm. Justin was supposed to have been at Bruce’s house that night. But, after an argument with Bruce about another boy who was invited (that Justin didn’t like), Justin had backed out at the last minute.

 Justin Miller, Spring 2015.

Justin Miller, Spring 2015.

Life sometimes distributes tragedy inequitably. Justin seems to have received the lion’s share.

Anyone who has served in combat has his or her own story to tell. The problem for most veterans is that while many people are truly grateful for their service and sacrifice, very few are actually willing to take the time to listen and see things from the veteran’s perspective. What follows is Justin’s story, told in his own words. It is both a unique and tragically all too common narrative, aspects of which will resonate with many of America’s most recent combat veterans.

Inspired by Patriotism and Circumstance

Justin grew up in in the hills and creeks surrounding Wheeling, West Virginia. Situated alongside the Ohio River and enveloped by the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Wheeling was the perfect place for Justin, who fell in love with the outdoors at a young age.

Listening to him tell it, you would think that Justin was born to live under the stars, coming inside only to eat and sleep. So in love with the outdoors was Justin that he would rather have been beaten with a belt than be forced to stay inside. When he wasn’t roaming the streams and creeks in the woods, you could find Justin playing football or baseball with his friends — and Justin was good. Really good.

Baseball was Justin’s passion growing up. Athletically versatile, he played second base, shortstop, and even pitched. In one season, Justin pitched two shut-outs and a no-hitter. So good was Justin that he made the Mt. Olivet Falcons all-star team three seasons in a row. As he developed into an exceptional athlete, things seemed to be looking up for Justin. But life threw him a curveball when his father was released from prison.

Desperate for his father’s love, acceptance, and attention, Justin unwittingly exposed himself to physical, mental, and verbal abuse at his father’s hands. Worse still, Justin’s father introduced him to the dark world of drugs, alcohol, and addiction.

After getting into a heated argument with his mother and step-dad, Justin was forced to get a job to pay for his own extracurricular activities. Justin left sports and ventured into the party scene, where, for two years, he began experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 galvanized the nation. Like so many other young Americans, Justin felt compelled to serve. Justin remembers the terrorist attacks well. As he was walking into his high school English class he recalls seeing tears streaming down his teacher’s face as she watched the events unfold live on their classroom television. A few minutes later, Justin watched in shock as United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

“I would’ve left and joined that day if I could have,” Justin says.

Justin initially attempted to enlist into the Marine Corps, but after having some issues with his recruiter, he went back to his old ways of hard partying.

It didn’t take long after leaving the Marine Corps recruiting office for Justin to realize that he was going down the same path as his old man. Like his father, he started roofing to make money to support his growing addiction. Almost a year after walking away from an enlistment into the Marines, Justin hit rock bottom. Then his dad did something incredible: he urged Justin to join the military. Calling Justin a “goddamn idiot,” his father said, “that if he could do it all over again, he would have joined the service and got the hell out of Wheeling.” A few days later, that’s just what Justin did.

Coming of Age in the Army

Growing up in Wheeling, Justin had always been an expert with a rifle, so it made sense that he wanted to be a sniper. In April of 2003, when his recruiter guaranteed that he could become an Infantryman — one route to becoming an Army sniper — Justin enlisted immediately.

Shortly thereafter, Justin found himself in Ft. Benning, GA. Basic combat training seemed like a blur, full of absurdly early mornings, long days on the rifle range, and few hours of sleep. Like most soldiers who attend basic combat training at Fort Benning, Justin came away with quite a few stories to tell. Some were funny, some were strange, and some were just plain bizarre.

For example, one of Justin’s heavier-set platoon mates started a fight as he was walking out of the shower. Strangely enough, the other guy stripped down naked, too. Shocked, Justin couldn’t help but watch in twisted amazement as two fat naked guys slipped, slid, and flopped around in the shower. The naked brawl only lasted a few minutes until Justin’s Drill Sergeant walked in. The whole platoon was punished on the spot for the altercation — in whatever it was they were (or weren’t) wearing.

Not long after completing basic training, Justin got his first taste of war. In the fall of 2003, he deployed to Iraq just as the insurgency there was beginning to gain traction. His unit was stationed at Camp Habbaniyah, between Fallujah to the east and Ramadi to the west. Justin started his deployment as an armed escort for combat engineers who scanned for and eliminated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the stretch of road leading from al-Taqaddam airbase all the way to Ramadi.

War has been characterized as long periods of complete boredom, punctuated by brief moments of panic and chaos. Justin’s first deployment was no exception. When he and his platoon weren’t out on a patrol, they rested in a metal hut on Camp Habbaniyah. They slept a few hours at a time, intermittently jerked awake by incoming rocket and mortar fire. Outside the wire, Justin went on countless patrols, much of them spent dodging roadside bombs, suicide bombers, and snipers. The heat and monotony were frequently broken by the confusion and turmoil of combat.

Although violence levels were on the rise, the insurgency there was only beginning to gain traction, and the marginalized Sunni fighters displayed uneven battlefield competence. “They were mostly street thugs or poor people just trying to make a quick buck,” Justin said, describing his enemy near Habbaniyah. “They weren’t very well trained. Most were paid to put in a bomb and set it off or would stick an AK-47 around a corner and spray.”

 Justin and his platoon at the end of his first deployment. Justin is standing in the back row, fifth from the right.

Justin and his platoon at the end of his first deployment. Justin is standing in the back row, fifth from the right.

Ghosts of War

Despite the growing strength of the insurgency, there were many Iraqis who longed for peace and stability. While on a routine foot patrol, Justin and his platoon saw an Iraqi boy and girl that they immediately recognized from previous missions. The brother and sister grabbed Justin and his men by their arms and led them into the courtyard of their home. There, the children informed Justin’s men that there was an IED in the middle of the street that they very nearly walked right over.

Justin and his platoon saw those same children again on the worst day of his deployment. On November 11th, 2003, Justin’s patrol was acting as a quick reaction force — an “on-call” backup for other units in the event they ran into trouble — when they received a call to report to the scene of a massive explosion. A car bomb had gone off and every medic in sector was needed on scene to respond to a mass casualty event.

Justin was the machine gunner in the vehicle that day, so when they arrived he stayed in the vehicle, perched atop the Humvee scanning for potential threats. Justin’s truck pulled close to a wounded soldier to provide armored protection for the medics to try and save the soldier’s life.

“It was so hard not to watch him,” Justin said of the wounded soldier. “Both of his femoral arteries were severed, and as I pulled security it was just so hard not to watch as the puddle of blood just kept growing.” After what seemed like a lifetime, Justin was finally able to take his eyes off the wounded and scan his sector. As he looked to his left, his life changed irrevocably.

Looking down an alley, Justin saw a little lifeless boy that had been struck in the face with a large piece of shrapnel from the blast. From the boy, Justin noticed a blood trail leading towards the end of the alley — towards Justin. At the end of the blood trail Justin saw a little girl with a severe abdominal wound. It was the girl, and her brother, who earlier had saved Justin’s life by preventing him from walking over an IED. “She was dragging herself towards me, fighting for her life…crying, and reaching for help.” Justin said.

He called for help, but was told to shut his mouth and to keep scanning his sector for potential threats. His job, he was reminded, was to provide security — not to worry about what the medics were doing.

“I sat there helplessly watching this little girl, who saved my life only a few weeks back, lay there confused, crying. And I watched her take her last breath.”

As the girl passed away, Justin noticed a man coming towards the patrol with a boy in his arms. This boy also had a terrible wound to his abdomen. The man was weeping uncontrollably as he carried his little boy towards the patrol, holding his son’s intestines to his belly as best he could.

Once again Justin called for help. This time Justin was told to stop the man for fear that he might have on a suicide vest. When the man didn’t respond to Justin’s calls to stop, Justin was told to fire a warning shot.

“After I fired the warning shot, the man fell to the ground with his boy in his arms and started screaming, crying harder, and throwing dirt on himself as he rocked back and forth over his lifeless son.”

On a later patrol during that same deployment to Ramadi, a roadside bomb detonated beside Justin’s vehicle, traumatizing all his vehicle’s occupants. Disoriented and unable to continue to operate the vehicle’s machine gun, Justin switched places with his assistant gunner.

Justin’s patrol turned around and returned to investigate the blast site. Nearby, Justin’s patrol spotted an Iraqi police truck sitting on the south side of the road with one of its occupants videotaping the blast. As Justin’s platoon approached, the Iraqi police sped off down an alley. Justin’s unit observed one of the vehicle’s occupants hand a video camera to a teenage Iraqi nearby.

The teenager and the Iraqi Police vehicle split up. Justin’s unit pursued the teenager on foot and found the camera in a nearby courtyard, though they never did locate or identify the kid. They loaded back up into their vehicles, and went to the nearest Iraqi Police station to see if they could identify the truck or its driver. Soon thereafter, they returned to house where they recovered the video camera to investigate further.

While searching through the house where the video camera was recovered, Justin was sent up to the second floor to take photographs of the residence. When an angry homeowner confronted Justin, he sensed that something was wrong. Looking around, and calling out for his platoon mates, Justin realized that his patrol had left him behind.

Justin left the house through the courtyard, slid along the courtyard’s wall, and forced his way through an angry crowd. After being chased for three blocks by the angry Iraqis, Justin arrived at a T-intersection where the gunner in the convoy’s trail vehicle finally noticed him and fired a warning shot at the crowd, allowing Justin to catch up to the convoy.

A Second Deployment

Life again placed a heavy burden on Justin’s shoulders when, in October of 2006, Justin made his second trip to Iraq. Surged to Baghdad with his unit as part of the change in Iraq strategy led by General David Petraeus, Justin was stationed with his unit at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon. Operating out of FOB Falcon, Justin’s battalion battled al-Qaeda extremists in their stronghold in the al-Dora neighborhood of Baghdad.

Justin’s platoon was charged with preventing the emplacement of roadside bombs along al-Dora’s bridges and roads. Performing reconnaissance and surveillance perched atop the Dora power plant, the scouts provided overwatch on known, likely, or suspected hotspots for insurgent activity. Despite its exposure to heavy combat in Ramadi and Habbaniyah, Justin’s unit was surprised by the level of violence in al-Dora. Here, the insurgency had reached a feverish pitch.

“These guys were full blown psychos,” Justin said. “They were well trained and well funded fighters. They planned and conducted lethal attacks. They would shoot, move, and communicate. If civilians were told to do something and they refused, al-Qaeda executed the whole family.”

The deployment was especially difficult for Justin and his battalion. Many of his brothers were wounded in action, 18 made the ultimate sacrifice, and several more died in the weeks and months following the deployment.

In one such incident Justin watched in horror as a car bomb exploded no more than 25 meters away from him. The shockwave dropped Justin to his knees and engulfed a member of his platoon in flames.

“I remember it well. We were walking down a street that had an ice cream shop.” Justin recalls. “We all walked past a car and I turned around in time to see Sanchez looking into the car.”

Looking in, Justin’s platoon mate saw several high-explosive mortar rounds strung together. Realizing that he was in danger, Sanchez pushed himself away as the vehicle exploded. The ensuing fireball engulfed him in flames and sent shrapnel in every direction. “The blast was so large it blew off the entire front end of the car.” Justin said. “It came skidding to a halt right in front of me.”

It was the quick reaction of one of the Iraqi language translators that saved Sanchez’ life. The translator extinguished the flames on Sanchez, dragged him into a nearby shop, and performed immediate lifesaving measures on his wounds. As a result of the heroic actions of the translator, Sanchez miraculously survived.

Scarred by the Violence

Even though his platoon mates describe Justin as mission focused, they were quick to point out his uncanny ability to remain calm under pressure. “I don’t ever remember him raising his voice or getting angry,” the Scout platoon’s medic Joe Hendrickson, said. “He had to keep the younger guys in line, which he did, but with a cool, calm, demeanor.”

 Photo courtesy of Christopher Mercado

Photo courtesy of Christopher Mercado

But just underneath the composure that then-Sergeant Miller outwardly displayed were the cumulative effects of fear, uncertainty, and combat trauma that result from living in an environment of persistent danger.

“If someone says they were never scared (in combat), they’re full of crap,” Justin says nearly 7 years after returning home. “A little fear keeps you alive. Shit happens so fast that you don’t really have time to be afraid…the fear sets in a day or two later when you realize what happened.”

Transitioning home from combat was tough for Justin and his unit. Although designed by the Army to be a deliberate process to reintegrate soldiers into their communities, unit redeployment does not always go smoothly. Justin’s unit exhibits an instance in which the return from combat did not go well.

Justin’s battalion’s troubles are well chronicled. L. Christopher Smith first documented the fallout in his 2009 article in a Rolling Stone article titled, “The Fort Carson Murder Spree.” Salon followed this reporting with a series called, “Coming Home,” which examined the troubling rise in military suicides. In May of 2010, PBS broadcast an extremely chilling episode called, “the Wounded Platoon,” which focused in on another platoon in Justin’s battalion. A few months later, David Philipps followed up on the Frontline broadcast with his book, “Lethal Warriors.” In April of 2014, former Marine infantryman David Morris described his experience as an embedded reporter in Justin’s unit in Slate magazine.

These reports are flattering neither to the Army generally, nor to Justin’s unit specifically. The reports documented a series of murders, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicides within Justin’s battalion. What none of them acknowledge, however, is that the overwhelming majority of soldiers in Justin’s battalion did not commit violent crime, attempt suicide, or abuse drugs or alcohol. It is more accurate to say that a small population accounted for a disproportionate amount of the issues. Still, the issues were there, and they were bad. For Justin, the suicides hit too close to home.

Confused, hurt, and angry that his comrades could survive the war but die within months of returning home, Justin turned to alcohol to numb the pain. The rush and adrenaline of combat gone, Justin felt empty inside and found himself longing to return to the fight. With his neighbor, also a platoon mate, Justin would drink nearly a half-gallon of Jack Daniels a night.

In May of 2009 Justin’s unit deployed to combat yet again, this time going to the Pech River Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

Instead of returning to combat with his unit, Justin found himself at the U.S. Army Recruiting School, having been selected to find and vet the Army’s next generation of warrior leaders. It was probably for the best that Justin went to duty as a recruiter; the cumulative effect of his combat service had taken a severe toll on his body and mind.

Like many combat veterans, Justin suffers from a litany of physical problems. As a result of the many blasts he was exposed to, he is a victim of Traumatic Brain Injury. He also suffers from memory loss and has been diagnosed with severe attention deficit disorder. Justin even underwent back surgery to repair the damage caused by the constant pounding of pavement under the heavy load of his combat gear.

The screams and cries of women and children continue to haunt Justin in his dreams. Because of his experiences, Justin routinely tries to avoid crowded, public places. Worse still is the guilt that Justin carries; the guilt of having survived when so many did not.

In all, Justin estimates that in his 11-year career nearly 50 of his comrades have fallen in combat or died after returning home. Even now, nearly seven years after his last deployment, he has yet to visit the gravesites of any of his fallen comrades.

In pain, and suffering from the repeated trauma of combat, Justin often found himself questioning his ability to continue. Anytime he wanted to quit, one of his mentors would tell Justin to remember his brothers and sisters that didn’t make it home, and “think about what they would do, if only they could be in your shoes right now.”

Others took Justin under their wing, getting him back into church, and used Justin’s experiences to mold him into a better leader of Soldiers.

Looking back on his Army career, Justin credits several officers and non-commissioned officers with giving him crucial lessons that helped pull him through the toughest of times. Justin could easily spot those that truly cared — they would stop whatever was going on and just listen to him — and it made a big difference in Justin’s life.

Most of all, Justin “misses the hell out of soldiers,” and often thinks about those he left behind and his decision to medically retire. “Every day I regret leaving the Army,” Justin said. “Now that I’m out, I feel lost, like I’m failing at life.”

Justin tempers these emotions by reminding himself why it was he needed to leave the Army. “Soldiers deserve the best…and I realized I wasn’t physically or mentally able to give them what they deserved.”

A Difficult Transition

After 11 years as a noncommissioned officer in the Army, Justin was medically retired on August 27, 2014. Officially signing out on his terminal leave on his 30th birthday, he was hit with the distinct feeling of having been abandoned yet again, this time by the Army.

Congressionally mandated, the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) is the Army’s dedicated program to assist those soldiers making the transition from the military into the civilian workforce. Some of the mandated ACAP requirements include pre-separation briefings, a Veterans Affairs Benefits workshop, a Department of Labor Employment workshop, financial planning and budgeting classes, and job assistance training, among others. The Army transition assistance program consists of about 40 hours of training that can either be distributed over a period of months or condensed into as little as five days.

Justin’s experience with the transition assistance program left much to be desired. He described the content of the pre-separation briefings, benefits briefings, and job assistance training as being so unfamiliar, they may as well have been delivered in a foreign language.

At one point an instructor providing pre-separation counseling was discussing how the various military occupational specialties correspond and transfer into civilian occupations. “They told us to raise our hand if we were in the Infantry.” When Justin and a few others raised their hands, the instructor told them, “You’re basically screwed. You can be a cop, or maybe a security guard.”

In a separate briefing, one ACAP instructor advised Justin and the class on apparently unethical measures they could take to increase their service-connected disability ratings. “They were telling us how to commit fraud to improve our disability rating.” Justin said. “I started out taking [ACAP] seriously. Soon enough I realized they were just going through the motions.” Justin’s existing military disability already rated him at 100% disabled, but the damage was done. He had lost his faith and trust in the Army transition program. “The only thing I can think of that was helpful was their resume class,” Justin said.

Even with a resume in hand, Justin left the only home he’d known for the last 11 years without so much as an interview, much less a job to support his family.

Struggling to find his way as a civilian, Justin’s life outside the Army is much more difficult than he imagined.

“I feel like my last eleven years are worth absolutely nothing in the civilian world,” he said. “I love being around all the time with my wife and kids, but I hate not knowing what to do.”

Describing his treatment at his local Veterans Administration Hospital as a “revolving door,” Justin echoes the feeling of resentment many veterans feel toward those that should be there to help them. Justin leaves his VA hospital with bottles of pills, a follow-up appointment, and a reminder that “it all gets better with time.”

The laundry list of drugs prescribed to Justin is more terrifying than some of his stories of Iraq. Justin was prescribed Sumatriptan for migraines, Effexor for anti-depression, Ritalin to combat attention deficit disorder, Prazosin to prevent nightmares, MS Contin for pain, an anti-inflammatory called Diclofenac, among others. “There are more, I just can’t remember their names,” Justin says of his prescription medicines.

A few months after leaving the Army, Justin was considering suicide. Living in constant pain, jobless, and unable to sleep because of his terrible nightmares, Justin had reached the lowest point in his life. He turned to the only people he felt could help — the local Veterans Administration Medical Center.

“I called the VA after having a particularly bad nightmare and told them I needed to see someone now.” Justin recalls. “They scheduled me an appointment for two days later. Here I am, on the verge of killing myself, and I need to wait two days to see someone.”

When asked to explain how he navigates the VA, Justin is at a complete loss. When he does call, Justin is exposed to a never-ending stream of computer systems and voicemails. When he leaves a voicemail, Justin says no one ever returns his calls.

Explaining the pains he went through to get vocational rehabilitation training to improve his chances of finding employment, Justin reported that he called and left messages over six times. “No one ever called me back. I finally just said screw it,” Justin says.

With the recent spate of scandals plaguing the Veterans Administration, it is not difficult at all to understand that veterans like Justin feel betrayed and abandoned.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, himself a decorated combat veteran, stepped down after it was revealed that as many as 45 veterans suffered while awaiting appointments at a VA hospital facility in Phoenix, AZ. The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that 20 of the 45 patients awaiting care died, however, the OIG report was unable to determine whether or not those deaths were caused by delays or substandard care.

In another case in August 2014, veterans were insensitively depicted by VA staffers as the Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch, in preparation for a clinic on how to interact with veterans.

On March 9th 2015, an Indianapolis VA Medical Center manager made headlines for inappropriate photos she sent in an email in December of 2014. In one photo, she displayed an elf-on-the-shelf trying to hang itself with Christmas lights. In another, she depicted the elf as a combat veteran with a note seeking more Xanax.

Even more recently, a veteran was denied access to a Houston VA Medical Center because he had his PTSD service dog with him.

Likely what was true of Justin’s unit after its return from combat is also true of the VA and Justin’s experience with his transition — that a very small population accounts for a disproportionate amount of the problems. Regrettably, news of issues travels much further than does that of success stories.

According to the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DODSER), as of June 30th, 2014, 479 uniformed service members have committed suicide. Of these, 259 were active duty and 20 were reservists or members of the National Guard. This figure is staggering, especially when compared against the total number of US fatalities in Iraq — 4,489.

Several in Justin’s unit attempted or committed suicide after the deployment, including senior noncommissioned officers and officers. For Justin, himself having contemplated suicide, this is the worst tragedy there is.

“We are tearing ourselves apart and it scares me to death.” Justin remarked. “We are supposed to live on for those that did not make it back. We owe it to our fallen to tell their story. We owe it to them to let people know what we’ve been through, so that they can truly understand the costs and consequences of war.”

For many veterans, the only thing more terrifying than going to combat is what happens when they come home.

Now out of the Army seven months, Justin is still unemployed. Though he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in over two and a half years, it was only a few months ago that he was losing in his struggle with depression.

In early 2015, Justin reached a turning point. He has returned to church and has found there a supportive group in whom he can confide. He has lost over 20 pounds using Beachbody’s at home workouts and is working towards losing another 15. Most important, Justin draws motivation and inspiration from his wife and family and has a strong network of veterans whom he considers part of his extended family.

Justin hopes his experiences — in combat and after — will shine a light on the challenges our combat veterans face as they try to reintegrate into a society that he feels has lost touch with its warriors.

For the American public, most of whom did not participate directly in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easy to pretend that the fight is over — or to go along as if the wars never occurred at all. For veterans like Justin, however, the battle still rages, this time on the home front. His story is a stark reminder of the human costs of war — costs easily concealed by sympathy without empathy. It demands that we never forget, calls us all to action, and reminds us of the heavy burden carried by those who bore the brunt of the fight on our behalf.

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” G.K. Chesterton

This article is dedicated to the 18 warriors of 2–12 Infantry who made the ultimate sacrifice during the unit’s 15-month deployment to al-Dora, Baghdad, Iraq from October 2006 to December 2007. The duty to keep their service and sacrifice alive belongs to those of us who survived.

IN MEMORIAM

SSG Jae Sik Moon, 25 Dec 06, B Co., 2–12 IN

SPC Walter Freeman Jr., 4 Mar 07, A Co., 2–12 IN

PFC Derek Gibson, 4 Mar 07, A Co., 2–12 IN

SGT Robert M. Carr, 13 Mar 07, C Co., 2–12 IN

SGT Joe Polo, 29 Mar 07, A Co., 2–12 IN

PFC Kyle G. Bohrnsen, 10 Apr 07, C Co., 2–12 IN

SPC Matthew Baylis, 30 May 07, C Co., 2–12 IN

SPC Justin Verdeja, 5 Jun 07, A Co., 2–12 IN

PFC Jeremiah J. Veitch, 21 Jun 07, A Co., 2–12 IN

SGT Michael J. Martinez, 28 Jun 07, B Co., 2–12 IN

SGT Giann Joya-Mendoza, 28 Jun 07, B Co., 2–12 IN

SGT Shin W. Kim, 28 Jun 07, B Co., 2–12 IN

SPC Dustin Workman II, 28 Jun 07, B Co., 2–12 IN

PFC Cory F. Hiltz, 28 Jun 07, B Co., 2–12 IN

SPC Steven Davis, 4 Jul 07, C Co., 2–12 IN

SPC Kenneth Iwasinksi, 17 Oct 07, D Co., 2–12 IN

SSG Jarred S. Fontenot, 18 Oct 07, A Co., 2–12 IN

SPC Brynn Joel Naylor, 13 Dec 07, C Co., 2–12 IN

There are many others, not listed here, who also served in 2–12 Infantry in al-Dora who fell on subsequent deployments with the unit.


Christopher Mercado is an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and currently attending Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program as a General Wayne A. Downing Scholar of the Combating Terrorism Center, USMA. Christopher served with Justin Miller in 2–12 Infantry at Fort Carson, CO and while deployed in Baghdad, Iraq. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of Georgetown University, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Have a response or an idea for your own article? Follow the logo below, and you too can contribute to The Bridge:

Enjoy what you just read? Please help spread the word to new readers by sharing it on social media.