In “Army Of One,” Swiss photojournalist Elisabeth Real, 32, tells the story of six American veterans whose lives have been irreversibly altered by the war in Iraq. All but one of the veterans have been officially diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). From 2006 to 2012, Elisabeth Real photographed and interviewed these young men, trying to find out what they have been going through and how, in turn, the consequences of their combat experience have affected their families at home.
“Army Of One” consists of photographs, articles and interviews as well as original documents provided by the soldiers themselves.
Rates of PTSD diagnosis increase significantly when troops are stationed in combat zones, have tours of longer than a year, experience combat, or were injured. A single PTSD diagnosis could cost $1.5 million in disability compensation over a soldier’s lifetime. Many soldiers awaiting the outcome of their evaluations have complained that Army doctors try to play down legitimate physical and psychological problems to reduce the long-term cost of health care and compensation. The backlog of unprocessed claims for PTSD disabilities is now over 400,000, up from 253,000 six years ago (data from July 2009).
The war in Iraq officially began on March 19th, 2003 and lasted 8.5 years, until December 2011. 2.16 million U.S. troops—about 1% of the United States population—were deployed in combat zones between 2001 and 2010. Roughly 4,500 US service members have died while serving in Iraq. Many more troops have committed suicide while in war or upon their return.
With this project, Elisabeth Real breaks down many of these numbers and statistics and focuses on the single soldier: the lone-standing “Army Of One.” Where does he fit into all this data? What’s the story he wants to tell? The title of this book is a reference to the U.S. Army’s former recruiting slogan that was replaced in 2006 by “Army Strong.” “Army Of One” refers to the possibilities that the military has to offer: Be all you can be, take your future and your life into your hands and you will be as powerful as a whole army. Yet for many soldiers, it takes on the opposite meaning: You are a warrior on your own and the US Army does not care about you as an individual in the least. Many of the soldiers suffering from PTSD are left completely alone. After Iraq—a conflict that the American public gradually kept losing interest in—the veterans keep fighting a war that they may never win.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Elisabeth if you want to know more about “Army Of One” (or just say hi).
Elisabeth Real, 1979, is a freelance photographer based in Switzerland. Reportage and portrait photography make her heart beat a little bit faster. She graduated from the University of Art and Design Zurich in 2005.
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