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On Memorial Day, A Look Inside The Lives Of U.S. Service Members In Afghanistan

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As America marks Memorial Day, we take a look inside the lives of U.S. service members deployed across Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan: On The Bounce, writer Steven Hartov and photographer Robert Cunningham follow American units from their deployment to the war-torn country until their heartfelt return to the United States.

Cunningham left for Afghanistan in 2011 and while in the country, he embedded with more than 40 different units and followed them on 132 combat missions. He took over 50,000 photographs in total, a selection of which is published in the book.

Cunningham writes in the preface of the book:

"Over the course of two years and multiple tours downrange, I traveled aboard more than one hundred military aircraft and vehicles, from Bagram to Herrera, from Kandahar to Shindand. I was hosted at multiple forward operating bases and more than twenty-two combat outposts, and I spent many nights "outside the wire" sharing a rock for a bed and waiting to be hit. During 132 combat missions, my guides were US Army soldiers, US Air Force pararescuemen, special forces operators, US Navy explosives experts, US Marine Corps infantrymen, military working dogs and Afghan officials and civilians, to name a few. The people I was with were much more than objects of my curiosity. They were my protectors, and I was their witness."

Take a look at some of Cunningham's excellent photos below. You can find the full series in Afghanistan: On The Bounce.

  • Robert Cunningham
    A crew chief assigned to the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division rides on the ramp of a CH-47 helicopter. The crew chief performs many jobs, from maintenance on the aircraft to managing the passengers while they are in transit.
  • Robert Cunningham
    An Air Force Pararescue Jumper sits in his aircraft awaiting a mission. The PJs are tasked with the recovery of injured personnel in hostile environments and are trained in emergency medical treatment procedures. Their motto is “That others may live.”
  • Robert Cunningham
    A member of a US Air Force Security Forces unit catches a few coveted minutes of rest aboard a medical evacuation flight over Kandahar, Afghanistan.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Members of the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team patrol the area while the US Army Corps of Engineers inspects recent improvements to the road.
  • Robert Cunningham
    While a dedicated marksman watches from a tower, and with the help of an interpreter, members of the 49th Military Police Brigade search a vehicle outside of an Afghan Police compound.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Soldiers from the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division prepare to search a building in eastern Afghanistan.
  • Robert Cunningham
    While members of an infantry squad plan their next course of action, solders from the US Army “take a knee”, and provide security.
  • Robert Cunningham
    After taking fire, a platoon of US Army Infantrymen “hit the dirt” and begin to maneuver towards the insurgents that fired at them. Moments prior, the platoons command center a few miles away had taken fire in a complex attack.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Soldiers from the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division search a building in eastern Afghanistan.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Soldiers of the US Army’s 45th Infantry Division patrol a canal in Jaji district, Paktia Province, Afghanistan.
  • Robert Cunningham
    A US Army Solder with a M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle searches his area of responsibility in eastern Afghanistan.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Soldiers from the 870th Military Police Company spend some time interacting with members of the Afghan National Police.
  • Robert Cunningham
    A two-man sniper team operates in eastern Afghanistan. These teams provide observation and intelligence, as well as being able to stop direct threats to troops operating in the area.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Perpetually curious, the children in Afghanistan are a constant presence on US patrols. Even though there is a language barrier, the Afghan children still flock to watch the soldiers.
  • Robert Cunningham
    A US Army Sergeant speaks with village elders in eastern Afghanistan. These meetings, called Key Leader Engagements, are a critical part of assisting the Afghans to become self-sufficient.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Sabari, Afghanistan - In a sign of solidarity with their Afghan compatriots, soldiers of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division fire off flares in celebration of a local holiday.
  • Robert Cunningham
    Soldiers from the US Army and contractors take a few moments to attend a church service at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Paktika province, Afghanistan.
  • Robert Cunningham
    A US Air Force Airman volunteers her time to teach at a language arts center at Bagram Air Field, Parwan Province, Afghanistan. The center teaches local children writing and reading skills, as well as arts and crafts.
  • Robert Cunningham
    When wanting to contact family and friends, soldiers at combat outposts have to often wait in line to get access to phones or the internet, and when they do, they are often restricted to a few short minutes. While waiting to use the computer, these soldiers take a break by playing Guitar Hero.
  • Robert Cunningham
    A soldier from the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division embraces his daughter, moments after returning home to Fort Knox, Kentucky, after a year in Afghanistan.

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