Lt. Col. Geoffrey Slack's job, keeping a six-mile stretch of road open between downtown Baghdad and the city's airport, was one of the most dangerous you could have in Iraq, a job he likened to a "vicious knife fight in a dark room."
60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan went on patrol with Lt. Col. Slack and his men last year, as they defended what had become known as one of the world's most dangerous roads.
On one patrol, Logan watched as Slack approached a slit-open fuel can in the road that turned out to be a bomb. "It's either I do it or they do it," Slack said, referring to his men.
He had lost four of them over seven months, but almost as frustrating to Slack was the fact that the road was still not secure. "I would have to tell you that by the purest definition of secure, I still haven't been successful. (Securing the road) is a work in progress," he told Logan at the time.
Even with nearly 1,000 men to guard the road, Slack said it was hard to catch insurgents who set off roadside bombs and conducted ambushes and suicide attacks because they blended in with the Iraqi population.
To root them out, he led patrols into neighborhoods to seek out the enemy. "You're trying to find an enemy who looks exactly like the people you don't want to kill," Slack said. "This is a vicious knife fight in a dark room, grappling with an unseen enemy, who, if he can get you, will kill you."
Insurgents know that if they can kill anyone on the vital thoroughfare or disrupt its flow, they will get a lot of attention because it's the country's lifeline to the outside and has become a symbol of America's progress in Iraq. Many insurgents are willing to sacrifice all. "This is a fundamentalist fanatic, for the most part, who's willing to — not just in onesies or twosies, but wholesale — line up to commit suicide," Slack said.
Despite making the road somewhat safer, Slack told 60 Minutes attacks continued and there was no clear victory in sight. "The hardest question you have to answer to a family or to a young soldier who has lost a friend is, 'What is that all about? What are we doing here, sir?' I can only tell them what I believe," said Slack, whose tour of duty ended in September. 'That we are buying time … for (Iraq's) military, for this government to stand up and put itself together."
Since this story originally aired and the third anniversary of the invasion passed, the U.S. military says the road is much safer than it was – so much safer that Iraqi forces now have the lead in keeping it secure.
The National Guard soldiers 60 Minutes accompanied came home from Iraq last September. And many of the Louisiana troops immediately volunteered for re-deployment on another front: dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Lt. Col. Slack was promoted to full colonel last spring.