On his first night as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Alex Ryabov watched orange lights streak across a black desert sky.
The glowing tracers sped through the night, illuminating the darkness. Sometimes they converged into one bright line; other times they collided, sending the orange streaks in new directions. It was mid-March 2003, and Ryabov's artillery unit was stationed in Kuwait, launching shells over the Iraqi border.
Working furiously on the sandy ground, surrounded by shell casings and debris, Ryabov thought about the devastation the American firepower could yield. As he helped load more shells into the cannons, he waited for return fire. It never came.
A year-and-a-half later, Ryabov is home in the United States, protesting his former job in Iraq. The Brooklyn Marine is co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, which opposes America's actions in Iraq and the president who initiated them. After a contentious election, the veteran's group is appealing to a divided country that has long revered its military.