Afghanistan Shipping Out
JEFFERY RICE, 19
"When I'm nervous, I smoke with my buddies. We talk to each other, joke around; it helps us calm down. I'll be honest, I'm not too sure what it's going to be like over there, since it's my first time going. I see myself having a good time, even though that seems like a crazy situation. I've made some tight bonds, different than the bonds I had with my buddies back home. Knowing that they'll basically give their life for mine—it's hard to describe. It's something you'd have to see for yourself to really understand. The guys I'm with, I know they'll be with me for the rest of my life. They mean a lot to me. They pretty much are family."
COURTNEY DANIELS, 23
"Our daughter was 8 months old when she met him because he was in Afghanistan when she was born. I was scared they weren't going to bond, but she prefers Daddy over me. As soon as she hears him, she runs to help him take his boots off. He told me he is not going to let anything stop him from coming home to me and Leila. But you can't stop a bomb." —Courtney's wife, Komeiko, 21 (right, with Leila, 19 months)
DAVID BLEA, 26, Elkhart, Ind.
"I've seen some bad things. We were in a combat zone in 2004, a rough period in Iraq. Our battalion had a lot of casualties. I was wounded twice: I took shrapnel in the face, and I stepped on an IED. That took me out for a week. I was one of the lucky ones, or watched over." Sgt. Blea is shown with his wife, Roseanne, 24, left, and sister Danielle Wiesemann, 28.
AARON MACLEAN, 28, Burke, Va.
"I have 40 young Marines. I've met the families of several—mothers, fathers, wives. It weighs on you. My team leaders are responsible for themselves and three other Marines. Some of these young men, if they'd gotten a job at Kinko's, they may or may not be trusted to run the copier without supervision. Here it's remarkable what they have on their shoulders."
MICHAEL STRANGE, 20, Mt. Juliet, Tenn.
"He has a dog, Angel, who is with us. He has a tarantula we had to find a home for. He loves lizards, snakes; we thought he'd go into some kind of animal business. He's an absolutely great kid—or a man now. When he hugged us goodbye, it was a long, tight hug. My biggest worry is that he will be molded by the war and the things he sees and has to do."
—Michael's mom, Phyllis, 50
SAMUEL PAQUETTE, 20
KHANRAD LAMONT, 19
East Stroudsburg, Pa.
JOSHUA SCHULER, 20
"I'm worried about the same thing that every parent who sends their child to war is worried about: him not coming back. Him getting shot, losing a limb. Psychologically, how is he going to be when he returns? I just want him to come back as the same person he always was, that person who loves life. I would be devastated if he lost his attitude about life."
—Norman Paquette, 61, father of Samuel (left)
BRETT SANDERS, 23, Newark, Ohio
"We met when I was 14, he was 16. One of the first things he told me was, 'I'm going to be a Marine.' After two deployments, I've had that tense, nervous feeling for eight months. It feels like he takes one of my lungs with him. I can't breathe. I'm worried about something happening to him. Dying. The rest of my life being ruined. When he gets home, I'll be the happiest girl ever."
—Brett's fiancée, Lacey Jewell, 21
JESSE BANCROFT, 22, Canaseraga, N.Y.
"This is my last deployment. I'm out January 2011. I might do construction or work on a railroad, I don't know. I'm a little scared about getting blown up. I'm pretty strict with my guys, don't want them second-guessing me. Other than that, I treat them like little brothers. We talk about our families. We know everything about everybody on our squad."
Private First Class
RYAN WEHSE, 23, Plymouth, Wis.
"I knew this was going to come sooner or later; I'm glad to get it over with now. What we're doing is hard. My grandfather is 89 and in a nursing home. He'll probably pass away when I'm over here. When I find that out, I'll cry. But when I look back in 20 years, I'm going to be like, 'Wow, I did that.'"
KEEGAN WECKMAN, 19, Lexington, Ky.
"He had a goal since age 7 to be a Marine. When he left he said, 'Take care of yourself, Popper.' I told him, 'Stay low and keep your butt down.' And I told him I love him. If God decides to take any of us, he would remember that."
—Keegan's grandfather (right) former Marine Ronald Bricking, 67
EDMOND GRIGG, 19, Hickory, N.C.
"Everybody will be a little bit afraid. But I'll get to do a lot of things people ordinarily wouldn't: firing automatic weapons, seeing air strikes, riding in helicopters. And I wouldn't want my training to be for nothing. I'm not looking for glory or fame or anything. I just want to be a good Marine."