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“You don’t get used to it because you’re in a war zone,” said civilian corps worker George S. Triggs, 54, of Louisville, Ky. “You learn to tolerate it and do the best you can.”

Yet the worst stress, some acknowledged, is that of family members waiting at home for their loved ones to return. Lt. Col. Jon Chytka, 44, of Tabor, S.D., recounted having to explain to his 5-year-old daughter why he had to leave.

He gave this answer: “I told her that before she was born, there were 19 people who killed 3,000.”