October 15, 2014 6:16 PM EDT

In 2009, while photographer Steven Dupont was embedded with the Weapons Platoon of the U.S. Marines Expeditionary Brigade 2nd Battalion’s Delta Company in Afghanistan, he asked them a simple but powerful question: Why are you a Marine? Then he asked them to reflect on the question, and scribble their answers in a notebook, which he’d also fill with candid Polaroid portraits he’d shot around the base.

Dupont—who had been traveling to Afghanistan for nearly two decades to document its ever-changing landscape and human condition—wanted “to gain an intimate window into the lives of this one platoon…to capture something of these men’s hopes and fears, their nationalism and pride, the thrill and the terror, the impact of a never-ending war.”

Looking back on the experience now, Dupont believes he did. “There are no tricks or lies in these documents, just a small piece of truth within the massive U.S. military machine,” he says. “I saw naïveté and fire inside these men, but I also saw devotion and questions and mighty hearts.”

Although the soldiers pictured here did survive that deployment, many others did not. “Some will leave the Marines and start new lives, and others will go back to Afghanistan to fight again,” says Dupont. “All of them have to contend with demons inside.”

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