Robert W. Philbrook passes out toothbrushes and toothpaste to Iraqi children in Baghdad in May 2005. Boy Scouts from the United States shipped him hundreds of kits to distribute in an act of goodwill. (Photo courtesy of Robert W. Philbrook)
Robert W. Philbrook grew up playing war.
As a boy, it seemed simple: In games of hide-and-seek, he and his friends sneaked between buildings, guarded their “forts"—and shot the “bad guys” before they shot back.
Years later, Philbrook enlisted with the California Army National Guard a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Shortly before he left for Iraq in 2005, a question from his then-6-year-old son Ryan stripped bare the reality of war. In Philbrook’s words:
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Sitting in the car that day, he looked at me and said, "Can I ask you a question, Daddy?"
I told my son, yes, he could ask me anything. After a moment, he said: "You said you might have to kill someone in the war, right?"
I nodded and said to him that is what soldiers sometimes have to do.