Rebecca, then 23, noticed the black memorial bracelet that he wore as a reminder that his soldiers’ lives would depend on his decisions. “It made me think that he was mature,” she recalled. The looming danger of his combat tour only added to the evening’s excitement. Rebecca felt as though she were playing a part in a movie.
(Love after war: See photos of Rebecca Taber and Dan Berschinski’s life together)
She had graduated from Yale University one year earlier, where she had been student body president. She was slim and pretty with a high forehead and dark hair. People told her that she resembled actress Natalie Portman.
Like most of her friends, she knew no one her age in the military and gave only passing thought to the wars. Speaking to students at Duke University last year, former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates lamented that “for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do.” He could have been describing Rebecca.
After graduation, she landed a sought-after job working for McKinsey & Co., a management consulting powerhouse that each year hires a small number of the country’s best college students. She was one of those earnest Ivy League graduates who come to Washington convinced that it’s their destiny to do something of consequence.
Earlier that night, at a U Street bar, she had asked Dan if he was scared of combat. The 25-year-old lieutenant said his biggest worry was making a mistake that would cause one of his soldiers to be injured.
As they kissed on the sidewalk, Dan’s mind shifted to less consequential matters. He wanted to get upstairs to her apartment, but she kept putting him off. She had work the next morning, she said. Her Indian roommate’s conservative parents were staying in her spare bedroom. She barely knew him.
He reminded her that he was leaving for war in just two weeks and gave it one last shot.
“Don’t let me die a virgin,” he joked. She turned him away.
The following morning Rebecca woke at 7 a.m. and headed to work. She was wrapping up one McKinsey assignment in Washington and weighing whether to raise her hand for a project the firm was taking on in Louisiana. It was a good, safe opportunity, but she wanted something riskier, with the potential for a bigger impact.
Dan rose a few hours later and drove south to visit his grandmother in North Carolina before he flew back to Fort Lewis, Wash., and then on to southern Afghanistan.
After lunch, Rebecca’s cellphone buzzed with a text message. “You’ve given me a new motivation for not getting blown up,” she read.
A ‘new lens’ on war
On July 19, Rebecca got her first e-mail from Afghanistan. Dan’s unit was at a logistics base outside Kandahar province, complete with Internet cafes, a T.G.I. Friday’s and its own bus system. “It really blows my mind to think that all of this has been constructed for the sake of killing some ridiculously poor people,” Dan wrote.