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Pfc. Nicholas Tolbert with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment searches an abandoned qalat during a patrol through the village of Maqtab in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Pfc. Nicholas Tolbert with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment searches an abandoned qalat during a patrol through the village of Maqtab in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. Nicholas Tolbert with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment searches an abandoned qalat during a patrol through the village of Maqtab in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Pfc. Nicholas Tolbert with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment searches an abandoned qalat during a patrol through the village of Maqtab in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. Lawrence Lopez with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment takes a look through his Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight during a foot patrol near the village of Khalbesat in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Pfc. Lawrence Lopez with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment takes a look through his Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight during a foot patrol near the village of Khalbesat in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Spc. Clark Choate with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment takes a nap in the back of a MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle returning to Combat Outpost Sabari after a patrol.

Spc. Clark Choate with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment takes a nap in the back of a MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle returning to Combat Outpost Sabari after a patrol. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment searches a stone structure in the village of Maktab near the Pakistani border of eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment searches a stone structure in the village of Maktab near the Pakistani border of eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. Steve Biter with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment smells a rose while on patrol in the village of Danda Faqiran near the Pakistani border of eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Pfc. Steve Biter with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment smells a rose while on patrol in the village of Danda Faqiran near the Pakistani border of eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. Nathan Jackson with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment walks past a gas pump in the village of Danda Faqiran near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan.

Pfc. Nathan Jackson with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment walks past a gas pump in the village of Danda Faqiran near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. Nicholas Tolbert grimaces with pain and laughter after losing his footing while descending a foothill near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Pfc. Nicholas Tolbert grimaces with pain and laughter after losing his footing while descending a foothill near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

A platoon with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment based at Combat Outpost Sabari, Khost province, conduct a mission brief to outline the day's tasks before going out on patrol.

A platoon with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment based at Combat Outpost Sabari, Khost province, conduct a mission brief to outline the day's tasks before going out on patrol. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment search an area, not far from the border of Pakistan, believed to be the origin of an indirect fire attack on Combat Outpost Sabari, Khost province.

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment search an area, not far from the border of Pakistan, believed to be the origin of an indirect fire attack on Combat Outpost Sabari, Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment prepare to return to base after a patrol through the village of Karizonah near Combat Outpost Sabari, Khost province.

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment prepare to return to base after a patrol through the village of Karizonah near Combat Outpost Sabari, Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Spc. Levi Page, a mechanic with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, pulls gunner duty in the turret of a MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during a patrol through his regiment's area of responsibility.

Spc. Levi Page, a mechanic with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, pulls gunner duty in the turret of a MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during a patrol through his regiment's area of responsibility. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. Jacob Lunceford with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment hands out crayons to kids in a village in close proximity to Pakistan in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Pfc. Jacob Lunceford with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment hands out crayons to kids in a village in close proximity to Pakistan in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

Pfc. Demeatia Mills, a Female Engagement Team member with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment walks through a bazzar in the village of Maktab near the Pakistani border of eastern Afghanistan's Khost province.

Pfc. Demeatia Mills, a Female Engagement Team member with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment walks through a bazzar in the village of Maktab near the Pakistani border of eastern Afghanistan's Khost province. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

The role of soldiers in Afghanistan has evolved since U.S. troops arrived in 2001 to strip the Taliban from power. Then, the emphasis was on combat. Today, much of what they do involves a daily regimen of patrols, like police officers walking the beat.

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment based at Combat Outpost Sabari cover a large area of eastern Khost province near Pakistan. Many of their days are spent going into villages to search for weapons caches, gather information on insurgents and meet with local elders.

In attempting to "win the hearts and minds" of Afghans, what they're asked to do is no less important - or dangerous, given the abundance of improvised explosive devices.

"On our first patrol, we were going to Mut Khel. It was supposed to be a good part of town," said Pfc. Nathan Jackson, 21, of Omaha, Neb. "We were strolling to a dude's house and then 50 meters away, boom! That pretty much set the pace of the deployment for me."

Whether the soldiers are on foot or in armored vehicles, the threat of IEDs takes a toll on their morale. The soldiers, frustrated by an enemy who seldom engages in direct contact, sometimes feel like they're chasing ghosts.

"I don't like (IEDs) because I can't defend myself," Jackson said. "If it's a firefight I can at least shoot the guy that's trying to shoot me."

demottsj@estripes.osd.mil


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