Veterans’ Good Luck Charms Haunt the Frame of War

We wanted to cover the daily lives of soldiers in Iraq’s most dangerous area, so we chose Mosul, referred to then as “al-Qaeda’s last urban stronghold.” On one of the first days living with the platoon, we asked soldiers to show us their good luck charms –- the things they carried to keep them safe, grounded, connected.

MAYA ALLERUZZO—APU.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chad Caldwell, 24, from Spokane, Wash. is seen at Combat Outpost Rabiy in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq on March 30, 2008. Sgt. Caldwell was killed by a roadside bomb on April 30, one month after this photo was taken.

Staff Sergeant Chad Caldwell had nothing in his pockets but was eager to talk. “I am my own good luck charm,” he said. “I am what keeps me alive. They’ve tried to blow me up, shoot me, throw hand grenades at me, everything they can throw at me. This far, I have walked away without a scratch on me, knock on wood.” Then he smirked. “I am Superman. I cannot be defeated. I am invincible.”

Now it was time for a portrait. He stepped into the center of the room in the partially destroyed building we were using as a studio.

He was slight, wiry – barely taller than me. But he stood tall. He looked like a boy, barely old enough to shave, but he’d fought in Iraq three times. He gazed into my lens as the sun filtered through the rubble, backlighting him. He looked, in this light, in this place, like a ghost. I drew in my breath and pressed the shutter.

He was killed exactly one month later by a bomb during a foot patrol. His death shook me. Sometimes, irrationally, I still worry that this photograph, or talking to him about his invincibility, was the thing that broke his lucky streak.

While covering the war in Afghanistan, Associated Press photographer Maya Alleruzzo documented the personal objects that soldiers carried into battle—“the things they carried to keep them safe, grounded, connected.”

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