BAGHDAD, Iraq — Even if they’re not coming under constant attack, soldiers patrolling a relatively quiet zone of east Baghdad know they can’t afford to get complacent.

“I always feel like I’m a target,” says Spc. Anthony Gisi, standing in a Humvee behind the most powerful weapon these soldiers have to defend themselves — a mounted .50-caliber machine gun. “Kind of feel like bait up here in the gunner’s hatch.”

While Americans in this sector have rarely been attacked, there have been instances elsewhere when others have lost their lives. A soldier mounted in his Humvee was killed Wednesday morning when a bomb exploded in an abandoned car as his vehicle passed by.

More than 33 U.S. servicemembers have been killed in hostile actions since President Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1.

Capt. Roger Maynulet, commander of Company A of the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, points out a bullet hole close to the spot where his flak vest ends below his shoulder joint.

An Iraqi citizen fired a pistol wildly over the wall of his yard one night, to scare away what he thought were thieves approaching his home.

Maynulet wasn’t hurt, but the Americans opened fire. The Iraqi quickly realized who he was dealing with, dropped his gun and apologized.

Sgt. Dave Cook, a scout with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment assigned to Maynulet’s company, says he is concerned about being attacked.

“I try not to think about it too much,” he says. “If you dwell on it, it’s really going to bug you.”

Sgt. Dave Neuzil, another scout with the 2nd ACR, recalls a checkpoint incident in June.

A car with four occupants swerved away from the waiting line of cars. It appeared to pick up speed and a soldier had to jump out of its path.

After firing two warning shots, Neuzil and several others around him fired at the vehicle.

The driver and all three passengers were wounded. Their excuse for trying to run the checkpoint? They didn’t want to wait in line.

“I think even they were surprised by the fact that we just shot them and now we’re putting bandages on them,” he says.

It’s not something he’s particularly proud of. But it’s not something he’s ashamed of, either.

But a talk with his wife, Jennifer, who is taking care of the couple’s young son, Ethan, back in the States, put the incident in some perspective.

“I think she feels that as long as I come home — and not in a casket — she really doesn’t care what happens over here.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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