A Thousand Letters Home

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When Staff Sgt. Juan Campos, 27, flew from Baghdad to Texas for two weeks last year, there was more on his mind than rest and relaxation. He spent time with his grandparents and touched base with the rest of his rambling, extended family. The day he was scheduled to return to war, Sergeant Campos and his wife went out dancing and drinking all evening with friends. Calm and reserved by nature, Sergeant Campos could out-salsa and out-hip-hop most anyone on the dance floor. At the airport, his wife, Jamie Campos, who had grown used to the upheaval of deployment, surprised herself.

Campos, 26, who has a 9-year-old son, Andre. He knew, and I kind of knew. It felt different. Tuesday, Oct. I lost a good friend of mine just two days ago to an enemy sniper. The worst feeling in the world is having lost one of your own and not being able to fight back. The more I go on patrol, the more alert I tend to be, but regardless of the situation here in Iraq is that we are never safe.

No matter the countermeasures we take to prevent any attacks. They seem to seep through the cracks. Every day a soldier is lost or wounded by enemy attacks. I for one would like to make it home to my family one day. Pray for us and keep us in your thoughts Juan Campos, Myspace blog. Sergeant Campos, a member of the First Battalion, 26th Infantry, Charlie Company out of Germany, was one of thousands of infantrymen assigned to stabilize Baghdad and the surrounding areas last year during the troop buildup. Troops were sent deep into insurgent neighborhoods, where they lived in small outposts, patrolled on foot, cleared houses, mingled with Iraqis and rebuilt the infrastructure.

The extra 30, service members — , in all — were deployed to Iraq to help quell the runaway violence that threatened large-scale civil war. Most soldiers spent 15 months in Iraq, a length of time that military commanders have said is unsustainable. Many had fought in the war at least once.

A few had been in Iraq multiple times. My only goals are to make it out of this place alive and return you guys and make you as happy as I can. Juan Campos, e-mail message to his wife, Dec. But to Sergeant Campos and the rest of Charlie Company in Adhamiya, a north Baghdad stronghold for Sunni insurgents, the buildup seemed oddly invisible. The men patrolled almost every day, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day for months, often in degree weather. Exhaustion was too kind a word for their fatigue. More than soldiers lived in a two-story house with portable toilets, no air-conditioning and temperamental showers.

Sleep came only a few hours at a time. The fighting was vicious. Adhamiya was such a magnet for sectarian bloodletting that the military built a wall around it to contain the violence. Robin Johnson, 28, said of the men in Charlie Company. I would die for these guys before I die for my own blood brother. They scoured rooftops for Iraqi children who lobbed grenades at American soldiers for a handful of cash. Roadside bombs burst from inside drainage pipes, impossible to detect from the street. The bombs grew larger by the month.

Last year, these powerful improvised explosive devices, known as I. The bombs also killed multiple soldiers more often than in the past, a testament to their potency. Charlie Company soldiers found a steady stream of Iraqis killed by insurgents for money or revenge. Some had their faces wiped clean by acid.

Others were missing their heads or limbs. Ryan Wood, Myspace blog. Ryan M. Wood, 22, a gifted artist, prolific writer and a sly romantic from Oklahoma, was also one of the bluntest soldiers inside Charlie Company.

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Ryan Wood, Myspace blog, Adhamiya. For the soldiers in Iraq, reconciling Adhamiya with America was not always easy. One place was buried in garbage and gore and hopelessness. The other seemed unmoored from the war, fixated on the minutia of daily life and the hiccups of the famous. The media was content to indulge.

View all New York Times newsletters. This little piece of truly, heart-breaking news captured headlines and apparently American imaginations as FOX news did a two hour, truly enlightening piece of breaking news history. I was amazed, truly dumbfounded wondering how we as Americans have sank so low. Ryan Wood, Myspace blog, May 26, The somberness of the job was hard to shake off. But, day to day, there was no more reliable antidote than Pfc.

Daniel J. Agami, a South Floridian with biceps the size of cantaloupes, and Pfc. Ryan J.

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Funny men in the best sense of the word, the two provided a valuable and essential commodity in a war zone. Private Agami proclaimed victory. About a month later I went to my room and my mattress was missing and all my close were being worn by other people. I saw him walking down the hall wearing five of my winter jackets. So then I had go to around and buy all my stuff back. Now I think he won. Agami, Charlie Company.

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Eulogy sent via e-mail message to his mother, Jan. To keep their spirits up, combat soldiers learned to appreciate the incongruities of war in Iraq. Jokes scrawled inside a Port-o-Potty quickly made the rounds. Situational humor, from goofy to macabre, proved plentiful. A really girly guy who was a cheerleader in high school, got knocked down and nearly hurt by the wind of the helicopter.

Listening to Dickson recite what was in every single MRE was pretty funny. A cow charged and nearly trampled one of my friends when we were raiding a compound. And lastly, I thought that it was pretty comical that I shot at a guy a long ways out but missed and later after taking his house and using it as a patrol base he offered me Chai and rice. Jerry Ryen King, Diyala Province.

Even a trip to the dentist, with its fringe benefits, is cause for amusement in a war zone. Last Sat. I had two of my wisdom teeth pulled. After taking double the prescribe percocot and morphine pills that the doctor gave me for the pain I decided to catch a flight back to my FOB forward operation base. We had four more guys die a couple days ago. They hit an IED, it killed everyone in the humvee.. We made it our first six months with just two deaths and that was plenty.

Jerry Ryen King, journal entry, April 11, Among the guys in Charlie Company, Private Agami, 25, was one of the boldest and most resilient. He was the kind of guy who joined an endurance ski contest on a whim. He came in fourth. He had never skied in his life. Private Agami had time for everyone, and everyone had time for him. Affectionately called GI Jew, he held his religion up to the light. He used it to build tolerance among the troops and shatter stereotypes; few in his unit had ever met a Jew.

He flew the Israeli flag over his cot in Adhamiya. He painted the words Hebrew Hammer onto his rifle. He even managed to keep kosher, a feat that required a steady diet of protein shakes and cereal. Commander Mom, I cant wait to come home and when I do, dont worry ill have allot to say to the congregation. Dont worry about my mental stage either, we all receive counseling and help from doctors when something like this happens.

I am a strong individual physically and mentally and if there is one thing the army teaches you, it is how to deal with death. Everyday that passes it gets easier and easier.

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I miss you guys very much and I love you! Daniel Agami, e-mail message to his mother, Oct. It did not get easier.

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I try not to cry. I have never cried this much my entire life.

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I sit here right now wondering why did they go to the gates of heaven n not me. I try everynight count my blessing that I made it another day but why are we in this hell over here?

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Ryan Hill, Myspace blog, Nov. Private Hill was riding in a Humvee on Jan. Sergeant Campos was riding in a Humvee on May 14, , two weeks after returning from Texas, when it hit an I. The bomb lifted the Humvee five feet off the ground and engulfed it in flames. Johnson said. Severely burned over 80 percent of his body, Sergeant Campos lived two weeks. He died June 1. Another soldier, Pfc. Nicholas S. Hartge, 20, of Indiana, died in the same attack.

Do you suppose you could keep them for me when I get 20 or 25 if I wrap them carefully in a package and send them to you? Corbat, to whom the Army soldier wrote the above letter on Dec. He would talk of. Bud Irish was a year-old Hemlock, Mich. He wrote his first letter from boot camp at Ft.

Custer, Mich. It was about as beautiful as I ever saw. It was a deep orange color and just seemed to blend into the dark sky. I told Corporal Clay it was sure too bad that a moon like that was going to waste for so many fellows and their sweethearts just because a few big fellows were greedy for power or land, but I guess it just has to be that way. If praying helps any, the time sure ought to shorten up some.

Bud had died a month before, and it was nearly midnight when Teresa, seeking to come to terms with his death, sat in front of the trunk, ope. She sorted them into yes, no and maybe piles as she began to formulate a plan to compile them into a book. In places the houses were pulverized to dust and great steel framed factories and buildings were nothing but masses of twisted waste. Parts of the city and even small towns were left untouched, but on roads where the Germans put up a fight and withdrew slowly, there was nothing but a path of destruction.