Cami McCormick joined more than a dozen soldiers in Tacoma as they remembered the death, and celebrated the life of their "brother", Army Cpl. Brian L. Chevalier.
For one group of young soldiers, most of whom were seniors in high school when the U.S. invaded Iraq, the 5th anniversary is not about numbers, political speeches or military strategy.
More than a dozen troops based in Tacoma, Washington gathered recently to commemorate a very personal milestone of the war.
During their 15 month deployment to Iraq, the Bravo Company, 5/20 Infantry Battalion, 3rd Stryker Brigade out of Ft. Lewis was stationed first in Mosul, and then moved to Baghdad as the U.S. troop surge got underway.
From Baghdad, the company was ordered to the volatile Diyala province, one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq.
"We expected a big fight," said Spc. Alex Horton. "The IEDS were so intense and so big that we had to plan our missions around the main routes."
On March 14th, 2007, only two hours into their first day of operations in Diyala, a massive roadside bomb hit one of their Stryker vehicles. Army Cpl. Brian L. Chevalier, 21, was driving. He was killed on impact.
A year later, his young comrades, who come from Georgia, New York, Texas and Louisiana, gathered at an apartment near Tacoma to remember him with a toast.
"Rest in peace Chevy, here's to you buddy," they said as they raised their beer bottles. "Brothers for life."
Sgt. Kyle Lund tells the group he's spoken to Chevy's mother in Georgia. "She's very proud of us, and even though she lost her son, she's very grateful to know that when he went he had friends like us by his side. She loves every one of us."
Some of the soldiers wiped tears from their eyes and the group headed for the door.
"We've mourned his death now let's go celebrate his life," one of them said as they piled into vehicles.
They made their way to the Thunderbird Lounge, a karaoke bar where some of them took to the stage to sing a song played at Chevy's memorial in Iraq. In the hours and days after he died they had little time to mourn. They were under fire, conducting missions and trying to avoid more roadside bombs.
"To the soldier on the ground, politics don't matter," says Lund. "The only tangible thing we can walk away with is that we brought our buddies home alive. We were there to protect each other and Chevy didn't make it. We failed at that."
"That was my brother," adds Spc. Bryan Winton. "We lived and worked and talked together. My number-one job was to take him home with me and it didn't happen, and that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life."
As U.S. casualties in Iraq approach 4,000 and the war enters its sixth year, the soldiers are divided on the importance of such landmarks.
"We're here tonight because it's not about 1, 2, 3, 4,000. It's about that one guy and the people that were around him. And there's 4,000 families out there thinking about that one guy," Lund said.
On the 5th anniversary of the invasion, they admit some soldiers are confused about their role in Iraq.
"It's not going to end anytime soon. We'll see a lot more anniversaries. It's just another one," says Horton.
Most important to them is their bond, formed during combat.
"You feel completely comfortable with people you served with, more than a brother, more than a father, more than any other relationship you ever had," says Horton, who has since left the military and hopes to start college.
Does he regret his war experience? No.
"Forty years of life experience crammed into three years. I learned a lot about life and death, what it means to be a friend and true dedication and commitment."
By Cami McCormick