Four Ex-Soldiers Revealed Exactly What It Was Like To Serve In Iraq’s Most Dangerous District

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For 15 months the men of 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment have been in the streets of “the swamp.” This is what some call al-Dora, one of Baghdad’s most dangerous suburbs. It’s a dusty evening in 2007, and the soldiers are the only people out on the street. Once a nice place to live, by now this area on the edge of Iraq’s capital has been torn to pieces by conflict.

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The soldiers are part of “The Surge”, America’s big push to end the war in Iraq. And now insurgents sneak into what was once a lovely suburb and try to kill the men of the 2-12 Infantry. Its very location on the edge of the capital, which had once made it such a great place to raise a family, has left it vulnerable to Al-Qaeda fighters fleeing towards Baghdad from American military action elsewhere in Iraq.

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The platoon’s base in al-Dora was well known to the insurgents, who were unstinting in their attacks. And the local people would also find themselves coming under fire, as Al-Qaeda sought to make the suburb uninhabitable. Perhaps the worst of it for the soldiers of the 2-12 was that the enemy remained concealed, their mode of operation the sneak attack, the hidden bomb, and the mortar rounds that seemed to come from nowhere.

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Unsurprisingly, some in the platoon had chosen to serve as a direct result of 9/11. The soldiers had all sorts of backgrounds, and some could certainly have picked an easier berth in the army, but they had wanted to be on the ground. Dorian Perez wanted to live up to his Vietnam vet dad; Nick Mazzarella hoped to go to college; Benjamin Jones thought he’d be springing out of a helicopter and fighting; and Cody Edmondson aimed to rise through the ranks.

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But whatever they had wanted, what the men got was a brutal baptism of fire which left them broken, physically and mentally. An IED (improvised explosive device) narrowly failed to kill Mazzarella, leaving him with mental trauma. And he was not alone in feeling that his death was certain, creating strain that would take years to overcome. Edmondson found civilian life lacked excitement, and his experiences left him unable to cope with simple things such as the cry of a hungry baby. All the men suffered Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), part of the sacrifice that the recruiting videos had not mentioned them ever having to make.

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