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

I spoke lastly to the major in his office.

He told me he’s been in the service for 16 years, and that he joined while studying history and anthropology at the University of Houston.

Meyer leads a sustainment brigade of about 1,000 soldiers, 200 of whom he had just returned with from Afghanistan in November.

“That was my third [tour],” he said. “I did Iraq from 2006 to 2007 timeframe, and then my first time to Afghanistan was from 2009 to 2010 timeframe.”

“In Iraq, I was on what is called a Military Transition Team, or a MIT,” he said, “and it was just an 11-man team that you were assigned to go and … kind of [train], advise and assist … and we were assigned to an Iraqi battalion.”

He said he took contact on average every week in Iraq, ranging from day-long firefights to receiving random potshots. “They ran the gamut.”

“There were a few incidents where an operation was put in place, and we were there to reinforce our Iraqi battalion — and, yes, we got into a firefight with a direct enemy that, yes, ‘I see you, you see me type of thing,’ and we were returning fire.”

I asked what goes through your head in that kind of situation?

“Honestly, that’s where your training kicks in,” Meyer said. “Because of the mission we had, we actually got a lot more additional training … So when those incidents occur … that training and those instincts kick in and take priority and hopefully supersede that fear so that you continue to fight.”

“The main one that I just remember [was] back in 2006” in Baghdad, he said. “It was a mission, and the idea was our battalion was the cordon — the outer security for a neighborhood, and there were several other units that were clearing that neighborhood of insurgents.”

“Our job was the cordon portion of it, and a couple of our Iraqi checkpoints were getting hit and attacked … and so we were responding to those,” he said. “We actually had a couple American units that got pinned down … One of our sister MIT teams ended up getting pinned down into an area, and so we went in and were able to reinforce them long enough to where they could pull out safely.”

“That mission was about an entire day to clear that neighborhood, and that one was probably the most intensive one that we had while we were there,” he said. “There was a known enemy and they were there to fight.”

“I don’t recall on that day, if and how many US soldiers were wounded, but I don’t recall anybody being killed,” he said.

I asked him what it’s like to return from a deployment.

“Everybody has different experiences,” Meyer said. “Something that might not effect somebody, truly effects somebody else.”

“There’s definitely that honeymoon phase immediately when you come back where you’re relieved: ‘I’m back, I made it, I’m alive. All of my friends are alive,'” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t all come back.”

“My first one in Iraq, the team that I went with, all of us came back and none of us were injured,” he said. “My second one, when I was a company commander in Afghanistan, the unit that I was in took several casualties, and a lot of people were killed, and I actually lost one of my soldiers.”

“I would say most people are on a kind of heightened sense for awhile where even the common things — a door slamming, a car that back fires — [it] doesn’t set you off, but it startles you,” he said.

“As time goes on, hopefully for most of us those things kind of go away,” he said. “Usually the army is pretty good at establishing organizations that are there to talk to you about it.”

“I know actually I did use it when I came back from Afghanistan the first time,” he said, his voice a little shaky. “Um … that, that was a … it was a big deal.”

The major paused for a few moments. His eyes got red and he began to tear up.

But “it’s a volunteer army,” he said. “You come in because you want to come in … whether it’s love of country, family heritage, college … we do it because we want to.”

We then went outside where I took the picture above.

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