Slowly, I began thinking about returning to Iraq. I went to Afghanistan instead. I had seen so little coverage from that war and I hoped I could contribute something. But as I tried to fund my trip, I was met with apathy.
While my agency had helped me to fund my Iraq trips through assignments from American magazines, the only publication that has published the Afghan work is Croatian.
The war in Afghanistan was equally real. On my first mission with the medevac unit we picked up a bloody stretcher carrying a dead American soldier covered by a blanket. His buddy, shot in the chest in the same ambush, faded in and out of consciousness on the frantic flight to the nearest hospital.
Now I'm back in the United States, photographing the recovery of wounded soldiers. They are men of all backgrounds, reflective on the wrenching changes the war has inflicted on their lives, and determined to move on.
Sometimes, late at night after too many beers, stories are told of dead children in shot-up cars and frantic escapes after wrong turns. The hospital rooms are beautifully appointed with donated luxuries, but in the beds are legless amputees that sit in the shadows by themselves late at night chain-smoking cigarettes.
Peter van Agtmael, 26, studied history at Yale University. He is currently working on a long-term project about the toll of America's wars at home and abroad. In 2006, van Agtmael was named one of "25 under-25 Up-and-coming American Photographers" by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. In 2007, he won a World Press Photo Award for his images of night raids in Iraq.
Van Agtmael remains friends with many of the soldiers he photographed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in some cases continues to follow their recovery.
The U.S. Army and all soldiers pictured consented to having these photos taken and made public.