A very small number of Americans are now serving in the military -- less than 1 percent. Some are looking for direction; others are inspired by a sense of patriotism or by a family member who served in an earlier war. In the series Who Serves, NPR looks at those who have made a decision few others today have -- to fight in America's wars.
In Afghanistan's Helmand province, a Marine platoon had taken over an abandoned compound. It was little more than a vacant lot, choked with weeds and surrounded by high mud walls.
One day last month, the Marines were getting set to head out on patrol. While they waited, they joked around in the Marine way: insulting each other, telling raw stories.
Here, a graphical look at the makeup of the military and the sacrifices those troops have made.
Off to one side, one man sat alone against a mud wall. He was pensive, almost serene. He had a stack of books next to his gear. He introduced himself as Darryl Richard St. George, a 29-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., who used to teach high school history. Now he cares for wounded Marines.
"I taught 10th and 12th grade. I loved teaching; it was a great job," St. George says. "But I felt like something was missing. I kind of -- I felt compelled to serve. So I looked into taking a leave of absence and I enlisted in the United States Navy for five years to be a corpsman."