I took portraits of combat-tested soldiers at Fort Bliss — and they told me their incredible stories

Fort Bliss army soldierDaniel Brown/Business Insider

FORT BLISS, Texas — I wanted to ask the soldiers about their stories.

I wanted to ask them why they joined the service, if and where they had been deployed, what their experiences were like overseas, what it was like coming home, and more. 

But it was difficult.

I only had a few chances to speak to individual soldiers in-depth as I toured a number of different weapons systems during my trip to Fort Bliss.

The conversations were sometimes difficult. “I feel like a d–k for asking those questions,” I told one of the public affairs officers after interviewing an officer who became emotional while describing an incident in Afghanistan. “But I think it’s important for people to know these things.”

“Yes, it is,” the PAO said.

The first chance I got to speak to soldiers in-depth was when I met a couple of Abrams tank crews.
Daniel Brown/Business Insider
Name and rank: Sergeant T. Wilder.
Daniel Brown/Business Insider

Wilder, 27, of Athens, Tennessee, is an Abrams tank commander who said he’s been in the service for eight years. 

“I joined right out of high school, like any typical high school kid does to get out of their hometown, pay for college, make something of themselves,” Wilder told me. “I got about 12 more years, and I can retire.”

Wilder said he deployed to Iraq in 2011 and 2012. 

“I was part of the initial drawdown,” he said. “I was everywhere from Kalsu all the way down to Echo and K-Crossing.”

“It was fun,” he said. “I deployed in an infantry platoon so I was out doing route clearance patrols, patrols, convoy overwatch, and stuff like that.”

Wilder said clearing IEDs was “slow, long, about 16 hours at about 20 mph,” and that he saw all different kinds. “We saw several that were made out off 155 rounds, 105 rounds, saw one out of a propane tank, bunch of stuff stuck in water bottles and coke cans and stuff.”

He said he took “a little bit [of contact], but nothing major.”

When I asked him if he’d share any particular stories, he understandably shook his head no.

Name and rank: Specialist Christian Pena.
Daniel Brown/Business Insider

Pena, 22, told me he has been in the Army for two years.

“I’m originally from Mexico, but I moved to Arizona when I was 10,” he said.

“I joined the Army ’cause this country has given me so many opportunities that I’m so grateful for — and it’s my way of repaying it,” he said.

He said he hasn’t deployed yet, but that “it’s definitely something I look forward to.”

“Man of few words,” the PAO said jokingly.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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