Afghanistan/USA, Erin Trieb
In the trenches: I spent three months embedded with U.S. troops from the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan in the fall of 2009. I got to know many of the soldiers I photographed. Among them was Staff Sergeant Cody Anderson. Cody was a natural-born leader: charismatic, charming, and funny. When the 10th Mountain Division returned home, I traveled to Fort Drum, New York, to document the homecoming. But shortly after Cody's unit returned, I received a phone call in which I learned that he had died. The police told me the cause was pneumonia. I was completely shocked and saddened by the news. He was just 25 years old.
Before Cody's death, I'd seen him at the welcome-home ceremony at Fort Drum. He told me that he'd been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had assaulted someone the day after he returned from Afghanistan. At Cody's memorial service, I met his fiancée, Stefanie Strausser, who revealed to me that she was the one Cody had assaulted. Stefanie was heartbroken over Cody's sudden death, but even more so since he'd wanted to get better and was receiving help from Fort Drum's mental-health department.
Empathy and action: Cody's story helped change the way I relate to the people I photograph. I've come to realize that the opportunity to act compassionately is as important as the pictures I take. I recently launched The Homecoming Project, an organization that addresses the struggles soldiers face when they come home from war.
Erin Trieb, 29, is based in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, Time, and Smithsonian Magazine.
Photo: Staff Sergeant Cody Anderson in Afghanistan in 2009.