After 15 years in the military and three tours in Iraq, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rish of the 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry knows you can never be too careful. Rish first came to Iraq for the invasion in 2003. Rish and 27 other U.S. troops live at Checkpoint Eleven, 25 miles from the Syrian border. The war that has changed so many of their lives is not yet over.
"To be honest with you, I really didn't think we would be here this long," Sgt. Rish said.
Captain Keith Benoit, 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry, leads a joint patrol of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers through the town of Zummar. An IED went off two weeks ago here, and American intelligence is warning of another attack in the coming days. Benoit's primary job is training the Iraqis - something that is finally starting to pay off.
"We live, we work with them, we patrol with them, there is nothing we don't do together," Capt. Benoit said. "Here, I trust these soldiers to man a position, just like my guys do."
But it wasn't always that way. On his first tour in Anbar province, First Sgt. Clint Davis said the local police actually launched an attack on his men.
"They shot at you?" McCarthy asked.
"When they were meant to be your partners?"
"Now you come back and you are working with them?"
"Yes sir, day and night - a completely different attitude."
U.S. combat operations may be ending now and the overall level of violence may be down, but the war isn't over. For the 50,000 U.S. troops who are staying here, the risks are still very real.
"I can't tell my soldiers you are not a combat-armed soldier any more, that's offensive, you know what I am saying," said Sgt. 1st Class John Sylvester 3rd Squadron 7th U.S. Cavalry. "We are still out here doing what we did before."
Sylvester has done three tours in Iraq, and the memories of fellow soldiers who have died weighs heavily on him.
"I am happy that Iraq is doing better, but there is nothing that is going to make it better for the friends that I have lost here," Sgt. Sylvester said.
Seven years on, the Iraq war is still a story of blood, sweat and tears.
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