Video: How do U.S. troops in Iraq feel?

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/24/2006 2:40:31 PM ET 2006-03-24T19:40:31

Alpha Company, Second Battalion, Fourth Infantry Division, hits the ground hard and fast. The objective — a suspected insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad.

They find another dry hole — no weapons cache, or insurgents. This is Alpha Company's war, chasing an elusive enemy.

"The insurgents are kind of like cockroaches when the light comes on," says Sgt. Dana Messer. "As soon as that helicopter hits, boom, they're gone."

Sgt. Mark Tatum has been here before, 15 years ago in Desert Storm. He reads Sporting News, not the news magazines, to unwind. He doesn't need any reminders of the debate about the war back home.

"For the most part they blow those guys off," says Tatum. "We're here to do a job."

Some in Alpha have been here twice and have lost friends. Spc. Abraham Fernandez is one of them.

"If we call it quits here now, then they died for no reason, for nothing," he says.

Alpha Company — 2-8, as it is called — has one goal: Everyone comes back alive.

Soldiers say a deployment passes faster when it has a lot of missions. Well, 2-8 has already had plenty, and it'll have many more before the troops return home in eight months, just before the fourth anniversary of the war.

For most in today's patrol, this is their first taste of Iraq. Sgt. David Taylor is gung-ho.

"We're here," he says, "we have a job and we're going to do it. Personal opinions on whether the war is right, why we're here, what we're doing, doesn't really come up."

Taylor's mettle is tested 24 hours later. His Humvee is hit by a roadside bomb as he and his platoon return home from the mission. The steering wheel cuts into his waist.

"They missed this time, so we're going to go out there and do what they asked us to do and stick with that," says Taylor.

On this day, Alpha 2-8 learned a lesson: It's easier taking an objective than leaving it. The same can be said about Iraq itself — a quick invasion, and a long exit.        

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