What does the war in Iraq look like? When I conjure up snapshots in my mind, I think of dramatic images: The toppling of the Saddam statue, a Humvee blasted to bits by a roadside bomb, Iraqis weeping in the street. But there are calmer moments, too, and some of them are captured in Private Soldiers: A Year in Iraq with a Wisconsin National Guard Unit, an exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square.
Private Soldiers collects photographs from a new book about the 2-127th Infantry Battalion, whose members arrived in the Iraqi theater in August 2005. Published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, the book is by Capt. Benjamin Buchholz and photographers Lt. Nathan Olson and Staff Sgt. Joseph Streeter.
In the first of the 18 photos, the soldiers train in Mississippi and Kuwait. One shot from Kuwait captures the sight of a few Humvees dwarfed by an achingly beautiful desert sky. Other photographs show the heavily armored members of the 2-127th as, on Iraqi highways, they guard semi trailers in kilometer-long convoys. Still another shows soldiers at their leisure, smoking cigarettes in front of rows of sand-colored tents.
The photographers also turned their cameras on Iraqis. In one picture a man leading a camel wears a quizzical expression, and in another two soldiers talk to a boy of about ten. He looks away, clutching a bottle of water. His feet are bare in the sand.
The captions accompanying the pictures are matter-of-fact, though some have wry humor. "Anytime our convoy stopped, even in the most inhospitable desert," one says, "merchants appeared to sell us knives, cigarettes, Viagra, and movies."
Perhaps the most poignant image is one Buchholz took of a clay pot made by his five-year-old son. In the captain's tent, the pot sits amid everyday items: a deck of cards, a paperback dictionary. The picture, Buchholz writes in a caption, "made me wonder how much I had been changed by the experience of being deployed."
"Private Soldiers" runs at the Wisconsin Historical Museum through March 8.