The Digital Journalist
© Nina Berman

"The first real eye opener was like just driving through the desert and seeing vehicles blown up and uniforms everywhere and I guess the aftermath of war, and just like people throwing rocks, like the hatred of people, the love of people, it was just all this stuff. And once we got up there is was like a rude awakening. A lot of things that people aren't supposed to see like destruction and houses where like people lived just destroyed, like little kids in the middle of nowhere. You know they don't have no families. It's weird. It looked like it had the potential to be a really pretty city but it was like mangled, just destroyed.

It was July 13. I think like three guys were killed the day I was injured. It was broad daylight, like 1800 hours and the grenade flew in the window, landed on the radio between me and my buddy. He was driving and he didn't see it so I grabbed it and tried to throw it out. I must have hit my elbow, or something, whatever happened, I dropped it on the ground of the humvee between my feet and when I reached down again to grab it, it went off in my hand, took my hand off, shattered my left leg, broke my right ankle, blew the whole body of the humvee out, part of the engine. My buddy Anthony , he was fine, nothing happened to himů.. He's in Germany right now. He got out because of like psychological or whatever. It messed him up.

At Walter Reed, it tripped me out because there were a lot of guys there messed up. I guess you hear about guys getting hit and this and that but you don't realize until you actually see them. Because when somebody gets hurt, they're out of there within hours, and you hear rumors, you hear stories, some guy got hit, some guy that, but you don't really see the reality of it until you get there and see them in the hospital. It's a trip when you're one of those guys too. I'm 20 years old and these guys are like between 18 and 23. It's weird.

I mean we would go to the mall and it would be like me missing my hand, my buddy Ed missing a leg. My buddy Chris missing his whole arm. We're all in crutches or wheelchairs, whatever, and they're just like five or six of us going through the mall, soldiers just back from the war, mad at the world just talking shit to everybody.

But like here in California, nobody really knows what the soldiers are going through, what's happening to them. They see on TV, oh yeah, two soldiers got wounded today and they think, yeah, he'll be alright. But that soldier is scarred for life both physically and mentally, but like they don't understand. They see one soldier wounded and they'll forget about it like as soon as they change the channel, you know.

Before I would go to a lot of parties. I would go to a lot of clubs. I was always out and about. I haven't been to a club. I haven't been to a party. I don't care what people think, I just don't like dealing with the questions. Especially people my age around here. They don't know what's going on. They ask stupid questions. Like, was it hot? Did you shoot anybody? They want me to glorify war and say it was so cool and it was like I did this and that. They're just ignorant. I mean you watch action movies and they glorify all this stuff like war is something cool, like it's something you want to do. When I was a little kid I would watch TV shows and I was like it would be cool to go to war. But the reality of it is, seeing all that crap, fucks you up in the head man. I can't sleep at night. It sucks. It really sucks. They don't understand.

I loved the military. It was my life. I loved it. I miss being in the military because it's like I had a routine. I was good at what I did. I had friends. I was successful. I was happy. And it was kind of like all taken away from me.

Yeah I got a purple heart. I don't care. No soldier wants a purple heart. I'll tell you that much. No soldier wants it. Awards don't mean nothing to me. I don't need anything to prove I was there. I know I was there. I got a constant reminder.

I mean like all the reasons we went to war, it just seems like they're not legit enough for people to lose their lives for and for me to lose my hand and use of my leg and for my buddies to lose their limbs. Like I just had a big conversation with my buddy the other day and like we want to know. I feel like we deserve to know."

Spc. Robert Acosta, 20, an ammunitions specialist with the 1st Armored Division, was wounded July 13, 2003 while driving in a humvee near Baghdad International a grenade was thrown into his vehicle and In the explosion he lost his right hand and the use of his left leg. Photographed April 13, 2004 at his home in Santa Ana, California.