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War Stories




When I left for Iraq I didn't know what I would photograph, but once I began to interact with the people-most of our patients were wounded Iraqi citizens and military personnel-I saw the story that needed to be told. These people lived under such incredible oppression, such abject poverty. The soldiers, some as young as 14, were forced to fight by Republican Guard thugs who threatened their lives or their families unless they joined.

I shot Tri-X with my Hasselblad and had 300MB scans made by West Coast Imaging when I got home. Our unit was so far forward it was not possible to get the photos out of the country and we didn't have access to the Internet. By the time I got home, the images were too old to be used by a newsmagazine.

The embed photojournalist with our unit was extremely frustrated, as were her colleagues in other units. While she worked very hard to create an honest, factual story, her published stories were changed to the extent that her message conveyed a much different view than she reported.

The message I hope my photographs convey is the simple humanity of the Iraqi people. They are a kind, generous, forgiving, and peaceful people who just want to live their lives as they want. Average Iraqi citizens, and even soldiers, yearn for freedom and are extremely grateful and relieved that someone finally has come to liberate them from Saddam's oppressive regime.

This message is not often told. We hear or read stories daily of the angry few, but rarely do we hear about the vast majority of Iraqis who support our mission.
History will judge whether or not it was appropriate for the U. S. and our allies to invade Iraq at this time, and for lives to have been lost, under the presumption of weapons of mass destruction. But having been among these extraordinary people during the height of the war, I have no doubt that their liberation is a good and just cause.

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Two U.S. Army Rangers prepare to helocast out of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during the annual Best Ranger Competition at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The Best Ranger competition is a grueling annual event where U.S. Army Rangers worldwide compete for the honor of being the best two-man team in the Army.

© Rolando Gomez

U.S. Army soldiers prepare to slingload while attending the Army Pathfinder school at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

© Rolando Gomez

ROLANDO GOMEZ
Rolando Gomez (www.rolandogomez.com) is Chief, Multimedia Production, Air Force News Agency. Former Chief of Pictorial Branch, Army & Air Force Hometown News Service. Joined Army in 1987, 8th Infantry Division; promoted to combat photographer; assigned to V Corps HQ in Frankfurt; documented nation rebuilding programs in Central and South America.

In 1987, when I was barely eking out a living as a commercial photographer, a recruiter convinced me to join the U.S. Army. I wound up with the 8th Infantry Division, a "muddy boot" assignment that gave me true combat arms experience and instilled the "soldier first attitude" when I deployed on assignments.

I qualified with demolitions, became an expert with grenades and bayonets, and learned hand-to-hand combat. I also photographed our training. When our battalion commander noticed my photographs, he helped me move from combat arms mechanic to combat photographer.

This led to an assignment at V Corps Headquarters in Frankfurt, where I began documenting troops in the same field exercises I used to participate in. Around this time, Lt. Gen. George A. Joulwan noticed my work. Later, when he became Commander in Chief, United States Southern Command, Panama City, Panama, he requested I document the drug war and nation-building programs he was spearheading in Central and South America.

During my tour in Germany and then in Latin America, I covered Desert Storm, the Peace Accords in El Salvador, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. My final duty station before leaving the military was Chief Pictorial Branch, Army & Air Force Hometown News Service-the military's version of the Associated Press-catering to over 11,000 civilian papers. Much of my work there was more historical than for publication. I would often photograph heads of state, presidents, prime ministers, U.S. ambassadors, President George Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell.

Many assignments I will never forget. When I was covering the drug wars in Latin America, I watched a family search for food in a garbage cart in Honduras; and saw young kids roaming the streets in gangs in Rio de Janeiro to get money or food to survive. I watched long and hard the look on the faces of East German people as they crossed into West Germany. And grieved in Goma, Zaire, where 1,000 Rwanda refugees died every day from cholera.


   







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