As he travels through Iraq, Army Sgt. Jon Fleenor carries a scorched and blackened teddy bear. After surviving a roadside bomb attack with the stuffed animal beside him, Fleenor doesn't like to part from it.
"I don't necessarily believe in it, but when I don't take it out when I go out one day, if I forget it, I don't feel right. So I guess it works. I'm still alive so far," he said about the gift from his wife.
• Click here to view photos.
Comforts don't come easy for Fleenor, of Sacramento, Calif., and others with Killer Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Hood, Texas. The unit spends many days at Combat Outpost Rabiy on Mosul's volatile west side, sharing the post, which has no running water, with Iraqi army troops.
In these ravaged parts, comfort comes in the form of a grandfather's dog tags, a library card, an ultrasound image of a daughter still in the womb — any personal good luck charm to keep up motivation and hope of safely returning home.
"When your life is at risk, you just try to hold on to anything that you think will help keep you going and get you home safe to see your family," said Army Spc. Derek Griffard, of Santa Monica, Calif. He carries a rosary chain from his first communion.
Some soldiers keep relatives' military mementos from the past to remind them it's possible to return from the battlefield.
Army Lt. Rusty Morris, of Sumter, S.C., carries his grandfather's World War II-era prayer book. "People go to war and come back and, you know, I'll do the same I hope," Morris said.
For others, the charms are a reminder of life before Iraq. Army Spc. Nathan Stopps' wallet contains a Blockbuster movie card and a receipt from a restaurant that gave away a T-shirt for eating two burritos. Stopps ate three.
"No one calls you by your first name here," he said. "But back home, I was Nate Stopps who had always had his wallet in his back pocket. It's been the same size for years, and it's still the same size in Iraq as it is back in Deerfield, Ill.," where he's from.