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March 19, 2006


Even with improved body armor, training and tactics, some injuries are unavoidable. Worse (or better depending on your view), due to the improvements in these items and medical treatment, many injuries are survivable, but leave indelible marks. Not all of them are physical. In this case, a soldier literally suffers from the fog of war.

Three years ago, in the war's first month, Piper became one of the now more than 17,000 U.S. troops wounded in action. A grenade blast in Baghdad mangled his right eye, collapsed his right eardrum and slammed his brain against the inside of his skull.

In a conflict where explosions account for roughly two-thirds of Army combat wounds, and improved body armor and field medicine increase chances of survival, brain injuries such as Piper's are common.

At home in southeast Georgia, he drives his pickup truck, and even took a recent ski trip, despite having no depth perception after losing his eye. In public, he pops his prosthetic eye in and out of its socket without self-consciousness. He hears fine with the help of a hearing aid.

Yet his doctors tell him at least 80 percent of his short-term memory has been destroyed. (...)

On April 13, 2003, less than month after U.S. troops crossed the Iraqi border, Piper was leading his six-man team in a hunt for weapons and munitions in southern Baghdad.

The sun was setting outside a library building where the soldiers had discovered a stockpile of small arms and mortar rounds. Piper stood outside, deciding which building to clear next.

A car passed on the street. Someone leaned out the window and lobbed a grenade, announcing an ambush with an explosion a few feet from Piper's back. The blast flung him five feet, sprawled facedown behind a Humvee.

"I didn't feel any pain or anything like that, but I saw this huge halo of blood in front of me," Piper recalled.

He reached to feel his right eye, but his hand slid straight to his ear. It felt like the side of his face had been flattened, the bones of his eye socket pulverized.

Amid the fighting, two soldiers grabbed Piper to rush him to a medivac helicopter. He insisted on giving them his ammunition and grenades first. En route to the nearest field hospital, he blacked out.

He's coping as many men and women have done before and after him. Read the rest on The Fog of War.

In another excellent article, soldiers talk about their memories of Iraq: the look, the feel, the smells and the tastes.

The heat, which is like living under a french-fry lamp, like standing in front of the world's biggest hair dryer, like sitting in a sealed car on the hottest summer day in Washington with the heater blasting and someone throwing sand in your face.

The mud, which follows the hot season, cold, slimy, sticky mud that makes you wish it would turn hot again.

The green that erupts after a spring rain and astounds you the first time you see it. The blue of the timeless sky above and beyond all the troubles. The black of the inky desert night, thickly dusted with stars and galaxies.

The eyes of the children.

These are some of the things they remember from their service in Iraq.

Washington Post interviewed 100 men and women to get their memories of Iraq. It's worth a read.