Robert Cunningham "Train like you fight, and fight like you train," said a senior soldier who oversaw troops as they practiced raiding an abandoned qalat (fortified home or building) in eastern Afghanistan. These simulated raids lasted long into the night, and were in preparation for an upcoming raid on a suspected insurgent's facility.
Robert Cunningham A crew chief assigned to Task Force Tigershark checks the landing zone from the door of a UH-60 Black hawk helicopter, making sure it is safe for the UH-47 Chinook (seen in the background) to land. The Chinook was transporting VIP and visiting dignitaries from multiple nations, as they were moved from one base to another for a meeting with local Afghani government personnel.  
Robert Cunningham A U.S. Army Specialist assigned to the Tenth Mountain Division's Task Force, Tigershark, poses for a photo sitting on the back ramp of a CH-47 Chinook during a combat resupply mission in eastern Afghanistan. The small strip of webbing attached to his back is the only thing that will save him if he was to fall out of the aircraft. 
Robert Cunningham In 2011, a U.S. base in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border burned after receiving rocket and mortar fire from across the border. This type of attack was common at this base, which is now closed. Frustrated solders spoke to the photographer repeatedly about their discontent toward the rules of engagement, which they perceived did not give them authorization to shoot across the border, or to pursue militants who would engage them from the border regions, then retreat to the relative safety of Pakistan.   
Robert Cunningham Service in Afghanistan is anything but combat after combat for the average soldier. The average soldier works on a rotational schedule, working for a while in maintenance, then base security ops, and then patrols. Here, a soldier works on a M240L, the successor of the M240B standard infantry medium machine gun.
Robert Cunningham After receiving a morning briefing, the men of Charlie Company, 1-26 Infantry Regiment suit up for a combat patrol in the neighboring Sabari District of Afghanistan. A soldier fired up his favorite high-tempo music, blasting it from a small speaker, adding a bit of motivation to the platoon's almost-daily routine. Just a few days before this patrol, this platoon was ambushed and a medevac had to evacuate four of its soldiers from off the side of a mountain.
Robert Cunningham After coming to the aid of a platoon engaged by enemy troops, a squad of U.S. Army soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team return to their vehicles. Task Force Creek of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was one of the hardest hit units in Afghanistan, having lost 15 soldiers. 
Robert Cunningham Awoken in the middle of the night to provide support to a unit engaged in a firefight near their base, members of the 1-26th Infantry Regiment's mortar teams await information on the location of the firefight.
Robert Cunningham A Sergeant from the U.S. Army's First Infantry Division, the "Big Red One," walks hand in hand with an Afghani child on a patrol in the city of Narizah, Khost Province, Afghanistan. Males walking hand in hand is a common practice in Afghanistan and shows a level of trust or friendship on the part of the Afghani people.
Robert Cunningham During a “Key Leader Engagement” meeting, a Sergeant from the U.S. Army sits and listens to the translator relay the needs of the village from the village elder. Because female soldiers are viewed as a rarity, the Afghani children and young men spent extra time interacting with her.
Robert Cunningham A group of U.S. Army soldiers take a moment to pose for a photograph with Afghani Police Officers in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province. The soldiers are partaking in an Afghan tradition: the drinking of chai tea. The Afghani people can be very hospitable, and will often offer chai, mangoes, or other food and drink to visitors, both friends and strangers.  
Robert Cunningham Medical personnel race a stretcher to a UH-60 Black Hawk medivac helicopter with incoming wounded aboard. These medivac flights come at all hours of the day and night, delivering soldiers, service members, and Afghani civilians who are in need of severe, time critical medical attention. Once stabilized, the patients would be moved to other, more extensive medical support facilities at lager bases, both in and outside of Afghanistan. 
Robert Cunningham A U.S. Army soldier, who had rotated home before the rest of his unit, joined in formation, as his fellow soldiers returned to the U.S. after a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. This ceremony, held late in the evening at Fort Knox, Kentucky, marked the first time in over a year that many of the soldiers families had seen their loved ones. Some of the soldiers were meeting their children for the first time.   
Robert Cunningham At a forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan, soldiers, sailors, airman, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and civilians alike line up on the path from the hospital to the helipad. Led by a chaplain, the body of a fallen soldier was moved from the hospital to the aircraft, where, just before departure, the chaplain took a moment to pray over the body. In the formation there were atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths represented, sharing in a moment of silence for the fallen soldier.        
Robert Cunningham A returning soldier takes a few precious moments to hug his loved one before returning to duty.

Postcards from Afghanistan

Although U.S. President Barack Obama declared last year that the combat mission in Aghanistan was over, close to 10,000 troops are still there, training Afghan forces and battling al Qaeda. Since Obama's announcement, Afghanistan, often dubbed a forgotten war destined to linger on with no definitive end, has been overshadowed by ISIS' conquests in the Middle East. In this gallery, Robert L. Cunningham, who served on over 100 missions as an embedded photographer with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, shows us the more personal side of combat with photos drawn from his book, Afghanistan on the Bounce, featuring text by Steven Hartov. Cunningham's images are a reminder that a backstage accompanies every theater of war—and it is often no more than a dusty tent or field where soldiers eat, sleep, relax, train, and too often, mourn for fallen comrads.

More Photo Galleries

Browse All Photo Galleries