War is change.

It alters the landscape, diverts the courses of lives. It compels nations to weigh human and fiscal priorities, and armies to evolve and adapt.

It inspires courage, cruelty, humanity.

It has been five years — 1,827 days — since American and allied troops massed on the desert border, poised for the charge north, listening to the first strikes of warplanes and cruise missiles scream overhead. Within 21 days Baghdad would fall. But the conflict would only be in its infancy.

Over the following five years, the only constant of the war in Iraq would be how frequently the situation on the ground changed. And, the military changed with it — new tactics were written and adopted, new equipment was fielded, and new countermeasures were sought against increasingly complicated bombs.

By the middle of last year, a series of events — both planned and unplanned — had helped to calm the sectarian violence that exploded in 2006. President Bush’s “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops and the basing of units in smaller bases within neighborhoods helped establish a security presence where one was previously lacking.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr committed his Mahdi Army militia to a cease-fire, greatly reducing the violence in Baghdad and its surroundings. In February, al-Sadr extended that cease-fire for another six months.

And, nearly 100,000 — mostly Sunni — Iraqis joined various armed civilian groups that pledged their allegiance to the U.S. military, which in turn paid them a monthly salary. Those groups — called “Concerned Local Citizens,” Awakenings Councils or “Sons of Iraq” by the U.S. military — have turned against the insurgent groups they once supported, or were even members of.

By this summer, U.S. troop numbers will return to pre-“surge” levels. Beyond that, military officials have not said when or if a further drawdown would begin.

The war has changed nearly every aspect of the U.S. military, and has changed innumerable military families.

Beginning today, Stars and Stripes looks at how the war has changed the individuals, institutions and future of the U.S. military.

War, an old soldier said, is cruelty, and you cannot refine it. No matter whose hand makes the war, sacrifices are needed to make the peace.

War is a constant.

War is change.

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