First Lieutenant Brie Zeiger tried to stifle her fear as the C-130 transport plane she was riding in began its descent toward Forward Operating Base Salerno in a hostile region of Afghanistan. The base was attacked so often that the soldiers nicknamed it “Rocket City.” Just three months earlier, in June 2012, insurgents had detonated a truck bomb and invaded the base, killing two Americans. As the plane approached the runway, Zeiger heard an odd sound, like pellets smacking a metal target at a fairground shooting game. This was normal, the crew told her, just incoming fire from the Taliban.
Zeiger, then 26, was a nurse in a small surgical unit there. At night, the faintest whir of helicopter blades would jolt her from bed; wounded were on the way. She loved the challenge of the work, the rush of making life-or-death decisions. “I felt like I was doing exactly what I was meant to do,” she says. But in time, she was numbed by the relentless stream of injured soldiers.
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