It's not just a soldier who goes to war for the first time — it's an experience for the soldier's entire family. NBC's Mike Taibbi has been following the stories of several soldiers as they trained and then headed to Iraq to put everything on the line as part of the continuing troop increase. In this segment, Mike takes a look at how a rookie and his family are handling their first weeks apart.
For 19-year-old Private Josh James, it was all new. The flight from Kuwait to Iraq, the first morning wakeup in huge Camp Kalsu south of Baghdad — and psyching himself past his last vestige of nervousness for the moment when he would leave the base for the first time — going "outside the wire," as they put it — a soldier at war.
"It's definitely going to be an adrenaline rush, you know? I'm excited. I can't wait," Josh said.
Back home near Fort Benning, Ga., the first weeks apart were a constant struggle for his wife, Kaylee, alone with the couple's toddler.
"I try to hold back the tears so Aaron doesn't see me crying," Kaylee said.
She tried to explain after reading an e-mail from Iraq — "Daddy's in that computer."
And, when Daddy finally was on the phone, poignant moments. It's Aaron's birthday. Another family separated by war on another special day.
"We can get through this, baby, OK?" Kaylee said over the phone.
At Kalsu, James got another dose of reality — a last-minute delay in his first mission.
"I was all [expletive] prepared and everything," Josh fumed.
"You've got a whole year, brother," a fellow soldier said.
A whole year, starting the next day of mostly duties like protecting Highway Tampa, the main supply route from Kuwait to Baghdad, not the most interesting or the most dangerous job in Iraq.
But "safe" is a relative term. One veteran soldier said his unit started calling Highway Tampa "the moon" because so many IEDs were leaving so many craters.
And as James would soon enough learn firsthand, those improvised explosive devices are a routine deadly threat every day and night a soldier leaves the base.
That's why phone calls between newly deployed soldiers and their families are so hard.
"We're always thinking about you, OK? We love you," Kaylee told James as she cried.
"I love you too, baby," Josh responded. "I'm going to come back safe, don't worry."