BACK FROM IRAQ

"One of the best parts of deploying is the welcome home." -- Sgt. Brandy Moreland, transportation specialist, served in Iraq March-September 2003 after landing at Biggs Army Airfield at Fort Bliss, Tex., in 2003 (By Vladimir Chaloupka -- Las Cruces Sun-news)

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bad stuff happened in Iraq, stuff Adam Reuter doesn't want to talk about. Not with his friends, not with the line cooks in the burger joint where he worked when he first came home or the tenants in the apartment complex he manages now.

He doesn't even want to talk about it with his wife, who worried because he was jumping out of bed in the middle of the night.

But when he agrees to talk about the war -- really talk about it -- he goes right to how the insurgent crumpled after he pulled the trigger. How later, during the firefight, he ended up just a few feet from the corpse. Bullets buzzed by, and he was supposed to keep an eye on the alley, but he couldn't help but glance over.

"He just lay there," Reuter remembers. His eyes and mouth open. His whiskers a few days old. The bullet had gone in his neck cleanly, just to the right of his Adam's apple, but had come out ugly from the back of his head. He was maybe 25, a little older than Reuter. And his blood was pooling, thick and almost black in the darkness.

How can you describe what that was like? Who would understand it?

Nobody. So Reuter keeps his mouth shut. His army uniform is packed in a box in the garage. He hasn't looked at it in months. Instead, he kisses his baby boy every night. He gets on with his life, because that's what everyone else is doing.

At home in Newnan, Ga., there is no war.

"It doesn't cross their minds," Reuter said. "To them, everything is fine."

* * *

After three years, there are at least 550,000 veterans of the Iraq war. The Washington Post interviewed 100 of them -- many of whom were still in the service, others who weren't -- to hear about what their war was like and how the transition home has been.

Their answers were as varied as their experiences. But a constant theme through the interviews was that the American public is largely unaffected by the war, and, despite round-the-clock television and Internet exposure, doesn't understand what it's like.

You can't understand unless you were there .


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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