Meet Capt. Dan Sukman

Capt. Daniel P. Sukman has wanted to be a soldier his whole life.

The 28-year-old native of Farmingdale, N.Y., says he can't think of a single incident that sparked what would become his life's passion, but he guesses the G.I. Joe action figures he played with as a child didn’t hurt.

Like most real soldiers — as opposed to many of those portrayed on the screen — Dan takes a serious-minded, workaday approach to his occupation. One does not get the sense of brashness or youthful arrogance from meeting him; ditto any tendency toward exaggeration or self-importance.

Dan says that being a soldier is more than a job; it is who he is. After all, he didn't just fall into this life.

After a childhood on Long Island, Dan headed for Vermont to attend Norwich University, the nation's oldest private military college. After four years as a student-soldier, he was commissioned in 2000 as a second lieutenant.

Dan's first assignment was as a platoon leader in South Korea, where he served for 18 months. He was then assigned to Kuwait, where he served as deputy provost marshal for Army Central Command Kuwait.

Dan was in Kuwait when the United States led the invasion into Iraq on March 20, 2003. Three months later, after President Bush declared the end of major combat operations, he returned to the States to attend the Army Captains Career Course. He simultaneously earned a master's degree in Business and Security Management from Webster University.

Upon completing his coursework Dan was assigned to Fort Campbell, Ky., where he worked as a provost marshal for the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division and trained for service in Iraq. By August 2005, Dan was in southern Baghdad.

Dan is the first to admit his life in Iraq is no action film. There are days when he has little to do, when he gets sick of watching DVDs, when he misses his dog. On other days, as a brigade staff officer he sends soldiers out on dangerous military operations. The very worst days, he says, are when not everyone returns alive.

For readers who don't live near a U.S. military base or personally know anyone serving abroad, it can be difficult to remember this nation is waging a war. Maybe it's that we have trifles like "American Idol" or "Dancing With the Stars" to distract us. Or maybe it's because the lives lost or forever changed by this war are so often drowned out by partisan politics.

Dan Sukman will tell you that none of that stuff matters when you are patrolling a hostile neighborhood in Baghdad or trying to train Iraqi police officers in the hope that they will one day relieve you of your duties. His favorite line from "The Shawshank Redemption" says it all: "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

After a two-week leave in the States, Dan is heading back to Baghdad. Before flying out, he filed his first diary entry for In Soldier's Diary, Dan will continue to send us updates on his life in Baghdad, from the mundane to the exhilarating to the heartbreaking.

Click here to read his first entry.