Memorial Day: Maj. Gen. John Campbell on Final Battlefield Tour of Afghanistan

He says he carries 217 cards in his rucksack for the soldiers who've died.

May 30, 2011 — -- This is Maj. Gen. John Campbell's last circle of the Afghan battlefields.

For one year, Campbell has commanded the deadly and dangerous 450 miles of Afghanistan that borders Pakistan, which means he has responsibility for 30,000 soldiers working at more than 150 combat outposts, many of them routinely attacked.

On one particular day, ABC News arrived at a small outpost in the Pech Valley, landing in a vast, dizzying pattern to confuse the enemy. The Americans and Afghans who live nearby had been under fire -- enduring eight or 10 mortar rounds -- just before ABC News arrived.

The soldiers, including Westpoint graduate Brian Kalaher, seemed almost numb to the attacks. Kalaher is in his third deployment.

"We brought in three children at our aid station here," Kalaher told ABC News. "One child, who was probably about 12 years old ... died."

Even the death of Osama bin Laden was a day of mixed emotions.

"We had a soldier killed then too," Kalaher said, "so we were on blackout. So for us, it was a little different."

At every outpost ABC News visited, it seemed as if someone had died or been wounded.

"It's been rough, but all in all, we've been able to pull through," Pvt. Jerry Shore said.

They've pulled through, with Campbell helping them along. Throughout the year, ABC News asked Campbell the same question each time we visited. How many soldiers has he lost?

In July, after only five weeks on the ground, Campbell lost 28 soldiers. He carried cards for each. In September, the number jumped to 76.

"This is company commander Capt. Ellery Wallace," Campbell said in September 2010. "He's got four kids, four small kids."

In December, the number of deaths had nearly doubled to 141. Now as Campbell leaves Afghanistan, the stack of 217 cards has grown so large that he has to lug them around in his rucksack.

"It touches me deeply," Campbell said. "I've made decisions that have put people in harm's way. That's why I have to carry those things that tell me about those soldiers, about their family. I will carry that with me the rest of my life."

Campbell said he cried every time he lost a soldier. "I'm tearing up now talking about it," he said. "Thinking about that family who had a soldier who was killed, and his wife was pregnant. And that son, daughter will never see their father. Those kinds of things get to me."

To counter that pain and those numbers, Campbell thinks about the 4,000 Taliban fighters he said his soldiers have killed or captured in the past year. He adds to that the doubling of the number of weapons caches being found, and the significant improvement in the Afghan security forces.

"I see progress every single day," Campbell said. "Some days it's very slow. Some days it's very frustrating. Two steps forward, one step back."

Campbell said he wants the U.S. to continue fighting in Afghanistan after he leaves the battleground -- despite public sentiment -- because he doesn't want the effort already made here to be in vain.