STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is recently back from Afghanistan. While he was there, Tom went out on patrol most days with the troops. And on one of those patrols, Tom spoke with Marine Sergeant Jon Moulder about his service and the toll it takes.
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JON MOULDER: Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, it's not bad.
TOM BOWMAN: It was just after dawn one day last month, and Sergeant Moulder led his Marines out of Combat Outpost Reilly, basically a collection of tents and sandbags and razor wire in the southwest of Afghanistan. The patrol - maybe 15 to 20 guys - walked a dusty road.
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BOWMAN: Moulder's a short, compact Marine. He's from Nashville, Tennessee. He's on his fourth combat tour, split evenly between Iraq and this place, Helmand province. That's meant a lot of time away from home.
MOULDER: Yeah, the whole family thing, deploying and keep leaving. I have my personal views and opinions on things. So...
BOWMAN: Sergeant Moulder has a wife back home. He has two kids. This is likely his last deployment. But he acknowledges this life is exciting. It's fighting America's enemies. It's the danger. It's the firefights.
MOULDER: It's the biggest adrenalin rush that you'll ever get. I don't say that I've done drugs, but I don't think drugs could ever top the adrenaline rush of you get into a firefight. That's why guys, like, when they get home, they just do dumb stuff. They're basically an adrenalin junkie.
BOWMAN: That adrenalin rush keeps him going. But all those deployments - and the endless patrols - take their toll. Moulder has lost several friends. Others have been seriously wounded, the most recent back in February.
MOULDER: Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)
BOWMAN: Out on that patrol, Sgt. Moulder stopped at an Afghan security post - a small, concrete building topped with the country's flag.
MOULDER: Unidentified Man #5: (Foreign language spoken)
BOWMAN: Unidentified Man #6: (Foreign language spoken)
BOWMAN: Sergeant Moulder was relieved to take his patrol off that dirt road. Roads and footpaths hide the crude bombs that kill Americans.
MOULDER: I don't trust any roads, really. I hate roads, footpaths. That's what sucks doing what we do, because, like, you never know when you're last footstep is, like your next footstep could be your last. The next footstep, you could be losing your limbs.
BOWMAN: Moulder's had his share of near misses. And for him - and many of the Marines - the question is whether it's all worth it. Last month, when I was in Afghanistan, the debate in Washington was about how many troops to bring home. So I asked Sergeant Moulder whether he felt that people back home care about the war.
MOULDER: We're starting to fall to the wayside. This has been going on for so long. It's been heavy. You know, it's America's longest conflict running to date. We're kind of like the bastard children of our generation.
BOWMAN: He's feeling forgotten, and that's after having survived four roadside bomb explosions. He's suffered a concussion. He's having trouble sleeping. He's seeing a counselor about post-traumatic stress. At times, Moulder says, he feels himself slipping away.
MOULDER: Every time you come over here on a deployment like this, it's like you lose a little bit of a piece of yourself every time you come over here, a little bit of a piece of humanity every time. And I don't want to hit that breaking point to where I have no respect for humanity left.
BOWMAN: Tom Bowman, NPR News.
INSKEEP: Tomorrow, a man who was a teacher.
INSKEEP: But I felt like something was missing, like, kind of, I felt compelled to serve.
INSKEEP: And he became a military medic.
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INSKEEP: It's NPR News.
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