Kevin Hughes, a Wall Street investment banker and Marine reservist tank commander, was among the first U.S. troops to enter Iraq at the start of the war.
On the night of March 20, 2003, Hughes rolled into Iraq on board an Abrams M1A1 tank with the Marines' 1st Division.
"That night was a very overwhelming experience," Hughes recalls. "It was the fear of the unknown … now that the rounds were finally going down range … it hit everybody in the unit that this was the real deal, we are now in war and lives have changed significantly."
Now, one year later, Hughes is back home in Nutley, N.J., and readjusting to civilian life. Like other "weekend warriors" who put their jobs and families on hold — and their lives on the line — he is now dealing with the effects of combat in his daily life.
The National Guard and reserves have suffered 15 percent of the fatalities in Iraq. Hughes' unit lost someone the second day of the war — a devastating loss that reminded them of the risks inherent in their commitments. "People have the understanding now that when they join up and sign on the dotted line, it's not just for the college monthly paycheck," he says. "It's more or less that they may need to be called upon to put their lives in danger."
Hughes left home in January 2003 to join his company, the Second Tank Battalion as they completed their desert training in Jacksonville, N.C. After following his unit and Fox 2/5 company's progress as they shipped out and went to war a year ago, ABCNEWS' Nightline revisited Hughes and other members of the group to see how they are adjusting.
Life Moves On
Hughes returned home that June and went back to work in July. He and his wife Lisa had their first child this month. They're hoping the birth of their daughter at the end of their unforgettable year, will be more of an indelible anniversary for them than March 20, the terrifying night a year earlier when Kevin and his unit rolled into Iraq.
Back at Deutsche Bank in New York, Hughes is in charge of an operations team of 30 people that manages billions of dollars of trades each day. His colleagues know he's not the same person he was before going off to war. "They would tell me that, you know, before I would yell at this person or I would expect this to be done in a few minutes," he says. "I learned how to deal with people better. I deal with situations better."
At the same time, he feels different from his colleagues. "I feel separate in knowing that I've taken part in a life-changing experience," he says. "I've done something that many other people around me have not, but they are supportive in what I've done."
A Tough Adjustment
Sgt. Ryan Smith, a squad leader with Fox 2/5, learned the good news of his college acceptance after three straight days of heavy combat on the company's final approach to Baghdad. That dichotomy seems to have set the tone for his freshman experience.
Smith had originally planned to get out of the Marines and start college a year ago. But the war in Iraq changed that.
Now a 23-year-old freshman majoring in history at Boston College, he has a much different perspective than his mostly 18-year-old classmates on the history lesson he lived last year.
"It was the defining moment in my life, and for them it was a non-entity," he explains. "It's something they don't even think about, and it's hard to relate … they are more concerned about what they're going to do Saturday night than what happened a year ago."