Two Soldiers

How the dead come home.

  1. As a unit of the élite 82nd Airborne Division, Bravo Company found itself in some of the fiercest fighting last year during the advance on Baghdad. Its hundred-and-thirty-odd paratroopers are among the Army’s best-trained and best-equipped soldiers, and none died during formal hostilities. The dying came later, after President Bush declared the mission accomplished. Bravo Company was assigned to garrison a teardrop-shaped sector of southern Baghdad defined by a hairpin bend in the Tigris River. The paratroopers, having trained to fight uniformed regiments in open combat, found themselves in an amorphous grind of guard duty, police work, and civil governance. Their main task was protecting the Al Dora oil refinery, but they were also responsible for keeping peace in a large area around it. The district embraced by the river is a pleasantly verdant but particularly hostile corner of Iraq. Many top officials of the Baathist regime owned mansions in the neighborhood, and though they fled the war, their sympathizers remained, doling out hundred-dollar payments to poor date farmers willing to plant a bomb or fire a mortar at the Americans. The area is also home to several radical mosques, behind one of which the paratroopers uncovered a huge weapons cache—among the largest ever found in Iraq. Rockets fired from the brushy banks of the Tigris would drop onto the Green Zone of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and Bravo Company prowled the darkness with night-vision scopes, search...