“Disco Night Sept 11,” an upcoming photography book from Peter van Agtmael, documents how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have affected U.S. citizens and soldiers.
Agtmael covered the consequences of America’s wars, both at home and abroad, from 2006 to 2013. During that time he strove to re-inject the realities of the wars into America’s national consciousness. His photographs provide a very human perspective to a series of wars that are often lacking a human face in the media.
“Disco Night Sept 11” is due to be released on April 16; advanced copies can be ordered through the Red Hook Editions website.
A Marine catches his breath after a firefight with the Taliban.
A Marine after a firefight with the Taliban. MIAN POSHTEH, HELMAND. AFGHANISTAN. 2009.
Recruits practice Combat Life Saving techniques before their eventual deployment.
A drill sergeant watches recruits performing Combat Life Saving techniques. Several soldiers mimic brutal injuries, screaming and writhing, a few faintly smirking. The recruits bandage the injured and get them out of the “kill zone” while others provide cover. A man in a black-billed hat films the action for later review. Their movements are slow and clumsy. The instructors shake their heads and grimace but say the exercise will run smoothly with more practice. Ultimately, most soldiers injured on the battlefield survive even the most grievous wounds. FORT JACKSON, SOUTH CAROLINA. USA. 2011.
A boy stares at the ground as U.S. soldiers perform a sweep through his house looking for contraband in Iraq.
American soldiers on a foot patrol noticed that two young men were eying them and fidgeting. Anticipating violence, they stormed their house. During the search the soldiers teased a young medic about his virginity. The soldiers had already searched hundreds of houses during their deployment, and the banter was casual as they swept the family’s possessions onto the floor. In the next room other soldiers were questioning a boy. “Have there been any new faces around the house lately?” “Are your brothers coming and going at strange hours?” The boy muttered noncommittal answers and stared at the ground. They found no contraband in the house, but the hands of the young men came up with a faint residue of explosives. The lieutenant in charge of the platoon decided to detain them, though he thought they were innocent. The explosives tests were notoriously unreliable. They were blindfolded, and their hands bound with zip ties. The rest of the family began screaming, beating their chests and waving their arms. The soldiers locked them in a room and pushed the two stumbling men towards the Stryker. MOSUL. IRAQ. 200
U.S. soldiers shelter themselves as a Blackhawk helicopter lands nearby.
A U.S. Blackhawk helicopter lands at the Ranch House, a small American outpost deep in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. There were no decent roads and all medevacs, re-supply and transport were done by helicopter. Blackhawks were in short supply, and many of the helicopters were ancient, shuddering Russian models subcontracted by the U.S. military and known as “Jingle Air.” Some of the pilots had served in the Russian Army during the previous war in Afghanistan. They were storied figures, celebrated for bravery under fire and rumours of heavy vodka consumption in flight. WAIGUL VALLEY, NURISTAN. AFGHANISTAN. 2007.
A sergeant rests as his house performs a search in a home in Iraq.
Sergeant Jackson rests while his platoon searches the house of a suspected insurgent. They found nothing suspicious, and the commander assumed he had received bad intelligence. Most of the raids I witnessed were dry holes. Before leaving, the commanding officer would occasionally compensate for damage by pressing a wad of soiled dinars or dollars into wary hands. Usually the platoon would leave without an apology to continue searching for their target, or return to base before insurgents had the chance to organise and attack. RAWAH. IRAQ. 2006
A soldier, shaken, recounts his experience with a suicide bombing.
I was sleeping when I heard an explosion coming from the city of Mosul. I walked over to the motor pool as a column of Strykers rolled in. A few soldiers hurried past me, their faces tightly drawn. I joined the next patrol heading into town and was told there had been a suicide bombing. Nine people had been killed and twenty-three wounded in a crowded café during the breakfast hour. The vehicles stopped down the street from the blast site, and we walked to the gaping hole in the otherwise quiet block. The Abu-Ali restaurant was shattered. The soldiers had stopped by the restaurant many times for sugary tea or a chat with the friendly owner. Now bits of flesh and scorched food, splinters of furniture and crockery choked the floor. The streets were empty except for a few curious bystanders. The patrol moved to the hospital to check on the victims. Ali, the owner, lay shriveled on one of the beds. His head was swaddled in bandages but for his nose and lips, which were caked in dried blood. He did not survive the day. MOSUL. IRAQ. 2006.
A military widow picks up her son on the way to the viewing of her husband.
Rosie Ricketts picks up her son Aiden before the viewing of her husband Seth, killed the previous week in Afghanistan She has two young children, with a third on the way. In her father’s home, Rosie remembered her life with Ricketts. They had met in church. She was the preacher’s daughter; Seth was the wild one. The day before he left for basic training, they confessed their feelings for each other. When Seth came back, he asked her father for permission to date her. They married in 2005. After he’d come back from several difficult tours, they tried to have a conversation about what to do if he was killed. He told her, “I’m invincible. Nothing’s going to happen to me.” The temporary coffin carrying Ricketts arrived at Dover Air Force Base on March 2. Dover is the first stop for dead soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families are often on hand to attend a brief, solemn ceremony as the flag-wrapped cases are removed from the plane and brought to the mortuary. The ban on media coverage of these transfers, in place during the Bush Administration, was lifted in February 2009 when Secretary of Defence Robert Gates ruled it should be up to the families of the fallen to decide whether the press should be allowed to photograph the return of their loved ones. About half the families agree to permit media coverage. Although dozens of journalists attended the early transfers after the ban was lifted, interest quickly waned. GLEN, MISSISSIPPI. USA. 2010.
A veteran plays with his sons after returning from war.
Raymond Hubbard with his children, Brady and Riley. Since his injuries, Raymond has become an avid collector of Star Wars merchandise. This is one of several family photos I took at Raymond’s request. DARIEN, WISCONSIN. USA. 2007.
Marines respond to the explosion of an IED placed in the road in front of them.
An improvised bomb explodes on a road outside the village of Mian Poshteh. The Marines had just climbed down from an abandoned Observation Post once used by the Soviet Army. While surveying the area, the Marines noticed suspicious movement. A motorcycle drove by slowly, the driver watching them intently. A head bobbed up a few times from a ditch near the road. “Something’s going down,” said one Marine. A few people came out of their houses to watch the patrol. As the Marines moved down the road, the ground exploded and several soldiers disappeared into the cloud. The rest of the Marines ran towards the explosion while the men at the front emerged coughing and choking. No one had been killed or badly hurt. The Marines gathered themselves and crossed a dry irrigation canal to another road. The commander ordered five men from the town to come to the Marine position. The Afghans drifted down the road warily. The radio picked up chatter amongst the Taliban suggesting another bomb was hidden in the road. At gunpoint the commander questioned the men. To one old man he yelled “That bomb went off because you didn’t stop them.” The man responded pleadingly, “I don’t know anything, so how could I stop it.” The commander waved him off, “Alright, get away from here, alright.” After questioning the elders, the Marines lined them up and told them to march in a line across the road back to the town. The Marines followed cautiously behind. As reporter Dexter Filkins and I began documenting the impromptu human shield, the Marine commander halted the patrol and decided to return to base. MIAN POSHTEH, HELMAND. AFGHANISTAN. 2009.
A soldier rides a donkey as resident warily watch on.
A soldier rides a donkey in Nineveh. The wary inhabitants of the isolated village had never seen an American patrol, and asked what country they were from. They served sugary tea to the soldiers but otherwise kept their distance. The troops took turns riding the donkey and posed for pictures holding lambs. In the Bible, Nineveh is described as a wicked city. God sent the prophet Jonah to preach there, and its inhabitants repented. God decided to spare the city. NINEVEH. IRAQ. 2006.
A sign advertising a 1970’s themed disco night.
A sign outside Arbor Ridge Catering and Banquet Hall advertising a 1970’s style Disco Night. An ad for the event promised: Dress your retro best and boogie on down! Break out your bell-bottoms and polish your platforms! There will be prizes for Best Dressed and Best Dancer. HOPEWELL JUNCTION, NEW YORK. USA. 2010.
Bobby, a veteran who suffered extreme burns, relaxes in a pool.
Bobby was an atheist before his injuries, “I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t like the idea of fearing God. I didn’t like the idea that anyone could be forgiven for their sins,” but his newfound faith has sustained him in the aftermath of the IED blast. He is still wary of religion, believing “the core of all religions is all the same. It comes from that energy we all feel of a higher power. Each culture adds its own rules and what they think you’re supposed to be, what makes you perfect for God, but I think that’s stuff we don’t need that man just put in there.” “What I want to do is to help more people than the guy that blew me up can hurt.” HOUSTON, TEXAS. USA. 2013.
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