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U.S. official resigns over Afghan war

As the White House deliberates over whether to deploy more troops, Hoh said he decided to speak out publicly because "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right.' "

"I realize what I'm getting into . . . what people are going to say about me," he said. "I never thought I would be doing this."

'Uncommon bravery'

Hoh's journey -- from Marine, reconstruction expert and diplomat to war protester -- was not an easy one. Over the weeks he spent thinking about and drafting his resignation letter, he said, "I felt physically nauseous at times."

His first ambition in life was to become a firefighter, like his father. Instead, after graduation from Tufts University and a desk job at a publishing firm, he joined the Marines in 1998. After five years in Japan and at the Pentagon -- and at a point early in the Iraq war when it appeared to many in the military that the conflict was all but over -- he left the Marines to join the private sector, only to be recruited as a Defense Department civilian in Iraq. A trained combat engineer, he was sent to manage reconstruction efforts in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.

"At one point," Hoh said, "I employed up to 5,000 Iraqis" handing out tens of millions of dollars in cash to construct roads and mosques. His program was one of the few later praised as a success by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

In 2005, Hoh took a job with BearingPoint, a major technology and management contractor at the State Department, and was sent to the Iraq desk in Foggy Bottom. When the U.S. effort in Iraq began to turn south in early 2006, he was recalled to active duty from the reserves. He assumed command of a company in Anbar province, where Marines were dying by the dozens.

Hoh came home in the spring of 2007 with citations for what one Marine evaluator called "uncommon bravery," a recommendation for promotion, and what he later recognized was post-traumatic stress disorder. Of all the deaths he witnessed, the one that weighed most heavily on him happened in a helicopter crash in Anbar in December 2006. He and a friend, Maj. Joseph T. McCloud, were aboard when the aircraft fell into the rushing waters below Haditha dam. Hoh swam to shore, dropped his 90 pounds of gear and dived back in to try to save McCloud and three others he could hear calling for help.

He was a strong swimmer, he said, but by the time he reached them, "they were gone."

'You can't sleep'

It wasn't until his third month home, in an apartment in Arlington, that it hit him like a wave. "All the things you hear about how it comes over you, it really did. . . . You have dreams, you can't sleep. You're just, 'Why did I fail? Why didn't I save that man? Why are his kids growing up without a father?' "

Like many Marines in similar situations, he didn't seek help. "The only thing I did," Hoh said, "was drink myself blind."

What finally began to bring him back, he said, was a television show -- "Rescue Me" on the FX cable network -- about a fictional New York firefighter who descended into "survivor guilt" and alcoholism after losing his best friend in the World Trade Center attacks.

He began talking to friends and researching the subject online. He visited McCloud's family and "apologized to his wife . . . because I didn't do enough to save them," even though his rational side knew he had done everything he could.

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