Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
Death and hope
One day, shrapnel from a roadside bomb hits Jordan in the face, neck and shoulder, but he returns to duty the same day. He finds the experience surreal -- a little closer and he might have been vaporized, but all he gets are some stitches. It shakes him. He feels lucky, scared, but mostly angry. He still hands out candy to the ragged children when he patrols the streets, but it's different now. He has a new outlook, feels hardened.
Despite the constant patrols, he never fires his rifle, using his camera instead to capture what's happening around him, from mundane life on base to the scarred cityscape. Once, he grabs a fleeing insurgent, orders him to stop resisting, but then he remembers his camera and starts taking photos instead, pushing the struggling guerrilla into the arms of another Marine.
In one house-to-house search, he photographs a fellow Marine shooting an insurgent, the body falling just outside his camera's viewfinder, the rifle clattering to the ground. It's the first combat death Jordan sees.
"I don't know what I expected," he says. "I was upset, but relieved, too, you know?"
He's shaken when, as part of an investigation, he has to photograph a fellow Marine who killed himself.
When a Marine friend's skull is split open by a roadside bomb, a life reduced to a dark spot on the road, Jordan is further confounded by the randomness of death. His friend does everything right and still ends up in a body bag just before his tour ends. Jordan thinks: Everything is out of your control. You can fight the insurgents, whenever they stand and fight, but not randomness. He tries to block it out, this bewildering finality, so he can do his job, so he won't go insane.
As time passes, he photographs other insurgents, civilians, Marines, alive and dead. He's shaken when, as part of an investigation, he has to photograph a fellow Marine who killed himself.
Still, Jordan loves his job, recording the rough draft of history on a digital disc, trusting his instinct on whether to raise his rifle or camera, trusting his fellow Marines to cover him. Other leathernecks envy his job, saying they didn't know the Marines even had combat cameramen.
Jordan takes some of his best photos when guerrillas fire mortars at a Marine position to try to lure them into an ambush. But Jordan's patrol rushes in and captures them before they can finish setting up the kill zone. He records it all and rushes his photos back to Marine headquarters.
Some of his favorite photos are of Iraqi children giving a thumbs-up sign to his lens, which he takes as a sign of hope. Another favorite photo is of an Iraqi man caught selling weapons to insurgents. For Jordan, his photograph of the man -- who is blindfolded, handcuffed, sitting in the dirt, his body sagging as if resigned to his fate -- embodies the good work American troops are doing.
In October 2004, when Jordan's first tour ends, his unit returns to Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, where his family greets him.
"I cried and cried," Ginger says. "I can't ever explain it. It was like giving birth again."
In February 2005, his unit is ordered back to Iraq, where the insurgency is raging.
"My heart just sunk," Ginger says. "I knew something bad was going to happen, but then I thought: What are the chances, really, of his getting hurt twice in a row?"