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KIRKUK, Iraq,

When the first president named George Bush sent troops to Iraq in 1991, Pfc. Ryan Ho was a toddler. Ten years later, Ho was on the cusp of his teen years as a 12-year-old when planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City. On Sept. 11, 2001, Ho was informed about the terrorist attacks while in a world history class, he remembered.

A year later, with the war in Afghanistan as retaliation for the attacks, the second President George Bush stood in front of the U.N. General Assembly and spoke of the “grave and gathering danger, in Iraq.” By March 2003, the war had begun.

Ho is part of a young generation of Americans who have grown up in the shadow of hostilities between the United States and Iraq. The defining moments of U.S. history in the last 20 years have been part of their formative childhood memories.

“I remember that there was this guy named Saddam,” Ho said of his younger years. “I knew [George W.] Bush was talking about finding weapons of mass destruction and talking about going to war. My stepmom and dad liked to talk about what was happening. I would listen to what they were saying.”

Ho, who turned 18 two months ago, and others in his generation are just now reaching adulthood. And though the difficulties and doubts revolving around the conflict emerged while they were still in high school, some have chosen to take part.

“I knew we were in a time of war, I knew it’s not going to be easy,” said the Hawaii native. “But I want to help people and I’m willing to make the sacrifice.”

Like some, Ho drifted in high school, not finding direction until he entered a military school in 2005 for “at-risk” students. The National Guard Youth Challenge Program gave Ho the direction he needed, Ho said. While there, he was drawn to the stories of the noncommissioned officers who taught at the school.

“They were good people,” Ho remembered. “A few had been in the Vietnam war, a few in Afghanistan. They said that you don’t really get any closer to people than to the other guys in your platoon.”

Ho had relatives who fought in World War I and World War II, but his decision to join the military was still not easy, he said.

“I was worried, I was scared,” he recalled. “My dad was also worried but he tried to hide it. My mom was freaking out.”

Ho’s reasons for sticking to his decision were simple.

“It’s risky, but it has to be done. And I’m here because I choose to be and because someone needs to step up and do something,” he said.

He has been at Forward Operating Base Warrior for a little more than a month as part of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment.

“I thought it would be a lot more crazy here. It’s a lot more under control than I thought,” he said.

In his short time, his unit has run across a couple of roadside bombs and been under fire by a sniper. But he has no regrets, he said.

“I made the right decisions. I know some people say that joining the military [at this time] would be crazy and that this war is stupid. But I know that I’m doing something that will have a positive influence on people,” Ho said.

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